Bluetick's Written Testimony
This was my written testimony. It differed from my podium time as the issues were just to complex for five minutes.
I have sent this as information to the Chairman and Minority Chair of the House and Senate G&F. If you agree, or have something to add, please contact them and the commission.
To be sure, there are no easy answers to these questions.
For your consideration:
Testimony To the Board of Commissioners, Pennsylvania Game Commission
January 22, 2012
Commissioners, Executive Director, Commission Staff,
The Policy Manuel approved in late December appears to be a good step in the orderly administration of the commission. A formal policy statement of this sort is helpful in the many aspects and interactions at all levels the commission is involved in. I was happy to see that Board actions, actions of the Executive Director and staff were addressed. More so with clear references to the strategic plan.
Clearly a step in the right direction. Clear lines of responsibility are always welcome in times of required action. No second guessing or infighting of the decision making process.
Hereafter every comment I make in this testimony is going to cost the commission money. I will not apologize nor sway in support for the rightfulness of these overdue actions by the commission or as required by legislative action.
Going forward, it must be understood, I have the utmost respect for the staff of the commission at all levels. I also understand the dire financial condition of the agency. That condition not from mismanagement, lack of foresight , or care to the mission.
I understand the constraints are artificially induced by a legislature that is seemingly bent on obfuscating their responsibility to ensure the proper operation of a state agency. That outright refusal impacting the ability of the commission to achieve the results and actions that are the cause of the inaction in the first place.
Still I call for the following for those most at risk within the agency: Wildlife Conservation Officer’s.
As we marked a year since the death of WCO David Grove, several articles were published around the state listing the changes and improvements to better protect and support officer’s in the field. Legislators and the commission need to achieve the following as soon as possible:
HB 2102 WCO Retirement
It pleases me greatly that the Executive Director has supported this bill.
The bill resides in the State Government Committee awaiting first consideration.
HB 1417 Assault Of Officer (WCO)
Earlier this year, the General Assembly and the Governor extended the deterrent of assault to public utility workers and even to private employee’s such as meter readers and cable installers. A renewed effort must be made to move this legislation out of the senate where it sits in Senate Appropriations and awaits second consideration.
The bill resides in the Senate Appropriations committee and is awaiting second consideration.
Shamefully, this bill was introduced before a similar bill that afforded these protections to the meter reader and the cable guy. The bill protecting Larry the cable guy passed into law last year. Our WCO’s, a state law enforcement unit, has less protection than a dog warden.
Issues Without Current Bills:
Salary to replace workers compensation:
Wildlife conservation Officers should enjoy the same benefits other state law enforcement enjoys. That being paid full salary for injuries sustained in the performance of their duties. Currently, they are placed into the workers compensation system.
WCO’s are unique in that they are the ones approaching all manner of people at all times of the day and night, alone, and they can count on nearly all being armed. According to one article, ‘ The Game Commission is number one in the state for unused sick time’. That speaks volumes in dedication of our officers, and the commission as a whole. It also speaks to the unlikelihood that this change in law will incur any large outlay’s.
It is time to change this injustice. Failure to do so is a slight upon our conservation officers (Game and Fish) and puts at risk their families quality of life. We owe them more for putting life and limb on the line daily as do every other officer in the state that is respected for that peril of duty and compensated accordingly if injury occurs on duty.
Imagine if you will, if WCO Grove had survived, he would have been placed on workers compensation during his recovery. The reduced payments and time constraints they are available another worry for his quality of life. I hate to use the death of Officer Grove as an example, but this exactly sums up the issue.
Over the years, much attention has been placed on the communication capabilities of the commission. Again, mostly around the safety of WCO’s.
Of concern is the inability of WCO’s in the far flung areas of this state having the ability to have back-up or basic information enforcement information available via radio. This deficiency in both vehicle mounted and hand held communications.
I find it interesting that some counties do not want their district WCO’s to use their systems. That was again mentioned in one of the articles.
The commission, through legislation or on its own needs to address this issue. It is without a doubt of the very highest importance.
In this case, legislation might be the easiest and most effective option. My reasoning is thus:
State and county communication systems are expensive. Highly likely, the state or even the Federal government contributed funds for the installation of these systems. Therefore, the state has a vested interest in these systems.
A bill could be introduced to address access to these system that had state or Federal money used in construction or upgrades. Access would be in the form of a secondary radio communications system to the primary commission system. Not a full time system. Reliability and locality are the benefits of this system. Radio coverage for the distant and isolated WCO would be vastly improved for the cost of compatible radio’s.
This issue is important enough that sportsmen are taking action on their own. Kingston Veterans & Sportsman’s Club in Latrobe raised $2,000 to provide a Westmoreland County conservation officer a radio. They are currently working to raise funds for additional radio’s for their regional officers.
A call for help, day or night, is a call that needs to go through. Reliability is essential when life, death, or serious injury is at risk.
Officer Compliment Authorization and Assignment:
Serious consideration must be given to the thought that it is time to increase WCO numbers in the commission. This will be expensive in both training and salary costs.
However, there are many issues that suggest that it is now time to take steps to increase the authorized complement. Among them:
Without an increase in total compliment, WCO’s will forever be covering multiple districts. This method of coverage limits responses, aggravates and projects the image that the commission doesn’t care about violations observed by citizens, places officers in jeopardy for assistance and in responding over long distances to calls, at times at high speeds.
The commission enjoys a highly dedicated and effective deputy force. However, the number of deputies is decreasing.
Articles recently have stated that the districts across the state have been shuffled. Some WCO’s have 800 square miles of coverage. A retired WCO stated that one officer in Potter County is one of those officers. I was amazed, in a county with limited roads to get from point A to B, and the roads that go around three to five mountains to get there, and we give that WCO more area of responsibility. Doesn’t make sense. Carbon and Clinton counties were also mentioned in the article.
As mentioned, public perception of response is also a huge issue. The question needs to be asked, “ are officers so widely disbursed that the public is under served?” Though most think the Game Commission is funded out of the General Fund, we know sportsmen pay the bills. Yet, hunters and the average citizen complain of no response from the district WCO when they have made a report. Enforcement tactics aside, people want the man in green to show up and talk to them or at least to call. Actually, they want to see or hear that the officer is attending their complaints. As good as our officers are, they can not be everywhere, and they can not be multiple places at one. There are still only 24 hours in a day and they need to sleep too.
The addition of an additional thirty officers would resolve many issues. Though training them up and paying for them in the long term presents many other issues. Please revisit the legislative failure to properly fund the commission above.
Currently, there are bills working in the legislature to increase the size of the State Police. That increase is within the General Fund budget. Increasing WCO’s compliment is on the sportsmen’s dime.
The time has come to adequately arm our WCO’s. The addition of a service rifle to the basic issue is long over due.
I can recall several reported incidents over the last several years where WCO’s came under fire from people with high powered rifles. In these instances, shotguns and pistols are insufficient.
At a minimum, officers in the more rural areas should be issued these weapons. Areas where back-up is measured in tens of minutes or more. Self reliance for these officers is essential and perhaps life saving.
Once purchased, these weapons will be in service for years. This is an investment in our officers, plain and simple.
Enforcement Contact information:
This issue piggy-backs on the communications issue.
It is time for the commission to develop and implement the ability to run the vehicle identification and personal ID of contacts. Yet another of the issues that encompass a safety issue for WCO’s.
The ability of an officer to check on the ownership of a vehicle or to get wants and warrants / criminal history on a person is invaluable in how to proceed with the contact. Why are we still placing our officers in jeopardy in the 21st century?
Even in casual contacts, say for a license check, if the officer suspects something, he should be able to check on the ID of the contact. As we move into the non-display era for hunting licenses, this will become more of an issue. Will the license checked and the ID match owners? Is the person that “forgot” his license really on revocation? Perhaps that person who forgot the license is a felon and not to be in procession of a fire arm.
Yet, that can not be reliably checked on the spot.
Time to come up to the 21st century standards.
As stated, I understand that everything above has a cost. That cost in these instances will be borne by the commission alone. Though, communications costs could be shared between the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission, and perhaps the DCNR as required. But that requires legislation to make the existing systems available for commission use. Bottom line, we are talking about a significant outlay of money that basically doesn’t exist.
I see the injury payments being a low cost imitative though. A serious look at WCO and other commissioned officer injury rates needs to be looked at in detail. This benefit is being asked for only commissioned officers of the commission. Those in the direct line of fire or greatest potential harm.
The use of Pittman Robertson funding can not be used for law enforcement activities. Nor can the proceeds from Marcellus Shale leases or royalties, coal mining, timber sales, or other lease or any other extraction activity.
The larger point is, sportsmen and citizens at large demanded stricter fines and penalties for poaching. We got it passed. Sportsmen and citizens demanded we enter into the Interstate Wildlife Violators Compact. We got it passed. Sportsmen demanded the end of the license display requirement. We got that passed as well.
Together, all of us have increased the scope of enforcement. Yet, together, we increased the hazards and need for information for our front line troops enforcing those laws.
The legislature in a singular act can help alleviate that shortage of cash to a large degree. Courage and commitment need to be exhibited by some in the legislature to make it happen. In short, that leadership nearly every candidate running for office tout’s needs to be put into action.
I encourage the legislature, and the Game Commission to revisit SB 740 from the 2009 / 2010 Session and address the funding issue. This bill was responsive to the required monetary amounts needed and implemented them in a staggered fashion to help prevent sticker shock by sportsmen. It also featured no increase in individual stamp fee’s as well as addressing the youth recruitment efforts of sportsmen nationwide.
I do apologize for the length of this testimony. These issues do deserve dialog and discussion. I am sure many more words will be spoken and written on these matters.
Thank you .
Is your position a short term gain - or a long term loss? Separate the issues.