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Author Topic: Environmental Police Officer - A Day in the Life by Duane72  (Read 1048 times)

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Environmental Police Officer - A Day in the Life by Duane72
« on: March 03, 2013, 05:11:46 PM »
Michael DiPietro is an Environmental Police Officer (EPO) with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). He started out first as a park ranger for 2 summers, then working on through the winter the second year; he spent the 3rd summer as an auxiliarist, or auxiliary EPO. He had been in college for Psychology, but was soon hooked and switched his major to Wildlife Management. Michael grew up hunting, fishing, and even spent time mushrooming over the years, so environmental management simply seemed a good fit. He had gotten to know several of the EPOs during his time as a park ranger and auxiliarist as well, which helped influence his decision to apply for the position himself. He was hired, went through the academy, and has spent the last 27 years, including those as a ranger and auxiliarist, working for the DEM here in RI. Michael went back to college in the evenings and received his BA in Administration of Justice. For the last 15 years he has been a Range Officer for DEM and currently, as chief range officer, oversees the weapons training for all EPOs who carry. He has volunteered as a Hunterís Safety Course teacher for 18 years, which was how he and I first met, at my sonís course this summer. Michael graciously agreed to take me on a ride-along this fall so I could get a different perspective on the DEM and what they do.

On October 1st, we met at a Park-And-Ride not far from my house. I was pretty impressed right up front. Michael has been issued a new model Chevy Tahoe, very well equipped with laptop, radio, subdued lights, etc. It is obvious our dollars from hunting licenses are being well spent. He had the necessary gear to do his job and do it well. And as we talked I learned more of why EPOs needed to be so well outfitted. Unlike a state or local policeman, or agent with the Marine Fisheries, an EPO not only needs to know the regulations of the environmental agency, but also all of the state and local laws a police officer would need to learn. They are governing authority on state parks and beaches throughout the year, so are often called to deal with accidents, domestic disputes, etc. that take place on those properties, not just the hunting and fishing aspect of enforcement. EPOs also are subcontracted by Marine Fisheries division to check and enforce laws at the docks and local waters. They are there to ensure commercial boats are adhering to regulations and in compliance, as well to enforce any laws and regulations broken by crew members. Those subcontracts are federal, which provide for overtime for the EPOs. They also open additional federal funding opportunities that help to pay for newer vehicles and better equipment for the EPOs such as guns, body armor, etc. Itís a wide range of enforcement for a small force of 24 officers and the equipment needed to do that range of enforcement is vital.

We drove the area and checked/stopped at several of the DEM parking/access areas to state lands. I learned a lot just from our first stop as I watched him check the vehicles parked at the access. He explained to me how just looking into the vehicle can give him a good indication of a personís purpose on the management property. Simple things, such as a blanket in the back seat or a bowl in the back of a station wagon are good indicators the person is simply there to walk their dog. That is one of the most common uses of state land, as well as hiking. Tracks around the vehicle confirm if the dog is present and how many people may be with the vehicle. Michael looked for signs of muzzle loading equipment as well. RI had an early doe-only season this year that was open at the time. However it was for private land only, so any indication of a muzzle loader having been in the vehicle at state land would have been an indication of violation and cause to pursue into the management area to find the hunter. I was impressed how much can be learned up front by simple, but attentive observation.

We hadnít been on the road very long it seemed when a call came in. A boat had capsized just outside the breachway, 3 adults and 2 children were in the water, and the Coast Guard had not yet been dispatched. I have to be honest, it was exciting as an observer, but I was praying the people in the water would be OK. Repeated conversation over the radio confirmed the people in the water would need rescue so dispatch sent us to pick up DEM's 14í Boston Whaler. Sirens and lights going, Michael rushed to the breachway. As we closed in on the access, the call came in that another EPO had arrived on scene. The Coast Guard had arrived and thankfully were able to retrieve the 5 people from the water and had them on their way to medical attention. We followed through to the scene to finish the call. I was amazed at the amount of response; fire rescue vehicles, ambulances, and other DEM and police vehicles were all on site and standing down. People were gathered along the beach to watch the rescue and park personnel were directing traffic in and out of the breachway parking area. The emergency was handled quickly and efficiently with, thankfully, no lives lost.

We returned the boat to its storage point and continued on patrolling the management areas. We stopped to talk to a few different people as the day went on, just to be a presence and to see if there were any issues that warranted further attention. One such conversation lead Michael to discover an improperly issued fishing license. A gentleman with out-of-state plates and an out-of-state driverís license was in possession of a resident fishing license, an obvious red flag. What I found impressive was that with no reflection of force or disrespect to the person at hand, Michael continued the conversation and was able to discern what happened without jumping to conclusions. As it turned out there was a misunderstanding with the issuing license agent and the gentleman had just moved into the area. Sportsmen often think the environmental officers are out to ďget themĒ or determined to find something wrong. I suppose there are always a few who are out to flex their authority, but at least with the officers I have met, most are just looking to keep things on the up and up for the benefit of everyone who hunts and fishes or uses the natural resources of the state. That was further confirmed for me when Michael simply issued a warning to the gentleman when he could have legally pressed him with a $100 fine. He said he ďbelieves more in educationĒ as a means to administer the regulations and that people respond better to it than simple legalistic enforcement of the laws. People are more apt to adjust what they are doing and adhere to the laws when they are respected. As someone on the receiving end of those laws as a hunter and fisherman I couldnít have agreed more!

I spent a lot of time asking questions about the various aspects, benefits, and downfalls of being an EPO. One of the things that stuck out to me as something I would find both a fun aspect to the job, but also a tough aspect was what I mentioned above about an EPO having such a wide range of enforcement and jurisdiction. The tough part for me would be the massive amount of law memorization needed to cover all of those aspects. The books of regulations and statutes an EPO needs to know in each of these areas, environmental, law enforcement, and fisheries can be one to several inches thick each. The job has a lot of variations because of those aspects however, and for me the varied work load would be fun. As the season change so do the aspects of your job. During the fall and winter months there is a heavy need for hunting regulations, obviously, but even then moments arise where the focus turns. Like with what happened to us during the ride-along with the capsized boat. As spring and summer rolls in, there is more attention on fishing and enforcement of state park regulations as campers and hikers move into the parks. Campgrounds become mini towns requiring traffic and domestic enforcement. Michael said that their busiest times are actually more in the summer than during hunting season because of all of the beaches, parks, and campgrounds they need to patrol. The population of people is much greater on state lands at those times, which naturally leads to more need of enforcement. Given such a wide range of enforcement, I was curious what the most common infractions an EPO runs across were. For Michael, during hunting season it is trespassing and insufficient or improperly worn orange. Lesser were possession of the wrong type of ammo (such as too large size of shot for season at hand, etc.) and hunters over the bagging limit of small game and birds. During the summer months, as with most vacationers, it is more the domestic violations, parties, etc. You simply never know what you may encounter that day when you sign in and for me that would make the job even more interesting.

There are many other benefits to the position as well. An EPO has state-wide arrest authority, not jurisdictional, so other than state lines there are no physical boundaries in the state to be concerned about crossing in getting their job done. Also, unlike typical law enforcement who have to get a warrant to do a search and seizure, an EPO has up front permission to do so. Itís given through the possession of a hunting/fishing license or use of state lands. When we purchase those licenses or park on state lands it gives the EPO permission to search vehicles, baggage, packs, etc. without having to go and first obtain a warrant. They also have assumed authority to enter private land unless the act is non-essential to enforcement of environmental laws. That provides for the immediate cease & desist acts in wetlands, etc.

A typical work week of 4 on 2 off can be both a benefit and a downfall to the job. It does provide time for the EPOs to be able to get out hunting themselves as any of us would with our weekends, but it also makes it tough socially. You could work 5 to 1 one day, 2 to 10 the next and each week the schedule changes, which can be tough as anyone who works a rotating shift knows. Letís just say not many, if any, EPOs can be found as members of their local bowling league with a schedule like that. Throw in the occasional missed baseball or football game for your kids and itís definitely not for everyone.

Other downfalls are more obvious. The job is a dangerous one. An EPO has a higher percent chance of an assault or fatal attack than most law enforcement officers. Though Michael seemed very calm and says he feels very safe in his job, EPOs are required to enter positions on a daily basis during hunting season where they are confronting armed individuals and often in remote areas. There is always the knowledge that they may be confronting someone who Is not afraid to retaliate if they have something they are desperate enough to hide. There are also no detectives in the environmental management division. An EPO does all aspects of the enforcement job. That also means there is no desk job per seí to retire to as you get older. If you enter the career later in life, to get your time in for retirement you may still be jumping boats and hiking deep into state lands in full gear at 60 years old.

All benefits and downfalls considered, a career in environmental law enforcement can be a very challenging and rewarding career. You can expect to need in most states a minimum of a bachelorís degree in environmental or wildlife management, marine biology, or other type of wildlife field. Once you apply youíll be subject to an agility/physical test and background check before being hired. Once hired itís off to the law enforcement academy for 14 to 16 weeks. Once all of that is done you spend your first year active on probation learning and meeting other requirements of your job before being released from rookie status. Yearly, the EPOs in RI have three range sessions where they continue training and holding proficiency. They have requirements they must meet annually for the Attorney General as any other law enforcement division would with officers who carry weapons. They train in low-light & high stress conditions to stay effective in real-life situations they might find themselves in. They also train in cold weather conditions in full gear in February as part of their proficiency. So the training aspect of the job doesnít end with the initial academy but is continual through out their career.

Overall I spent about 4 Ĺ hours ďon dutyĒ with Officer DiPietro. The experience was extremely educational for me and an eye opener in several aspects. I was invited back for another ride-along during a heavier part of hunting season. An offer I plan to take him up on! If you ever get the chance, I HIGHLY recommend you go on a ride-along with or just take the time to get to know your local environmental officer. Itís good for us as sportsmen to get to know and support those who work to ensure that we can enjoy these sports and activities safely and for years to come. If you get the chance, take a second to say thanks and shake their hand.



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