RAPID CITY, S.D.- South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Wildlife Conservation Officers aim to protect the state’s natural resources, and those who recreate in those areas. They’re certified law enforcement officers who handle a variety of different calls in an ordinary day.
“Our training is almost identical to what anybody that is a county deputy or city officer or state patrol officer or a state trooper goes through,” explains Chris Dekker, SD Game, Fish and Parks Conservation Officer. “So we go through the same basic law enforcement training academy in the same 13 week program. Where ours differs is once we come out of the academy. When we come out of the academy, we have more specialized training in our wildlife law enforcement.”
In rural locations, conservation officers are one of a handful of law enforcement officers patrolling the area. “Some of the counties I’ve been posted to at any given time, I may be the only or one of one or two guys out in the county that are our law enforcement officers. So if something happens we may be the closest person to be able to respond to an emergency situation, whether it’s law enforcement or medical,” Officer Dekker says. “Our backup can be hours away at times. So we learned to deal with a lot of things that city officers or county officers might have the luxury of having a backup officer around for. We don’t. So we learn to deal with that on our own.”
The types of calls for service they receive depends greatly on the season. In the summer, “fishing season’s kicking off, boating season’s kicking off. So a lot of my calls are going to relate being on or around the water. So it can be people who are taking too many fish. We’ll get calls about that. We’ll get calls about drunk boaters will get calls about people who are stranded on the water or other water emergency drownings or near drownings. Basically, anytime you have people congregate, our state parks and our lakes, they’re just mini towns at that point. So any problem you have in town, we’re going to have those out around our lakes,” Officer Dekker adds.
In fall, call types look totally different. “We get a lot of hunting calls. So that’s going to be our trespass calls, our over limit calls or out of season calls. We’re getting calls from our tips hotline individuals calling in saying, ‘hey, I’m seeing something that doesn’t look right’ and we love that. That’s great. So the citizens of the state, the hunters and and outdoors, people of the state are awesome. They’re the ones who are able to see more than we can see because we’ve got a limited number of field officers. So we can’t be everywhere at once, but the people out there using our resources can help protect it by calling our tips hotline when they see something wrong. And we’ll come investigate that. And then if there’s charges that need to be filed, we’ll solve those charges,” says Officer Dekker.
In addition to natural resource law enforcement, conservation officers like Officer Dekker handle public safety calls for service. “Because we’re dealing with someone who may be hunting or may be fishing doesn’t mean that there isn’t something else that’s going on. A lot of times our officers are making drug arrests. They’re finding people with felony warrants…bad guys like to have fun. And so we’ll see them out there in the summertime having fun alongside everybody else, and we have to deal with those situations.”
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