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Less consevation officers in NJ

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From Sundays Star Ledger:

 

 

Trail ends for wildlife volunteers

 

State decommissions its team of unpaid deputy conservation officers

Sunday, February 22, 2009 BY BRIAN T. MURRAY

Star-Ledger Staff

 

For more than a century, they served as vital backup for New Jersey's small force of wildlife police officers.

Unpaid deputy conservation officers, armed and extensively trained, helped their full-time counterparts track down poachers illegally shooting deer, and black marketers trying to sell the fur, bones or body parts of bears or beaver.

 

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They investigated dumping in state forests and reports of people tearing up ecologically sensitive trails with all-terrain vehicles.

Rick Chiusolo, 47, a 20-year deputy from Glassboro, often sacrificed his vacations to help New Jersey's 55 full-time conservation officers protect the environment and enforce hunting and fishing regulations.

"I'd do at least 120 hours in a year, and some years when I was younger, easily more than 200 hours," he said.

Not any more. Chiusolo and other deputies are mothballing their uniforms, badges and sidearms. Initiated by state law in 1896, the state's deputy program has been decommissioned, a victim of budget shortfalls and concerns about insurance liability.

"It's been a difficult decision," said Tim Cussens, chief of the Bureau of Law Enforcement with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife. "I relied a great deal on my deputies when I was a field officer. This is not a popular decision."

The last patrol involving a deputy took place Jan. 31. A week ago, Cussens broke the news to the state Fish and Game Council.

The decision, he said, followed meetings by a 15-member panel of training officers, former officers, deputies, union representatives, state lawyers and division administrators.

The panel concluded that while the state spends more than $30,000 annually recruiting and training deputies, it would have to spend far more over the next five years to increase insurance coverage and training to protect the deputies and the state from potential lawsuits in the future.

 

"Unfortunately, the cost of doing it is just under $1 million," Cussens said.

The deputy program had been a starting point for many of the state's full-time officers. Dave Chanda, director of the state Division of Fish and Game, worked as a deputy years ago. But while the state boasted more than 100 deputies in the early 1990s, it had only 29 deputies on patrol last month.

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The pressures of constant, annual training to address insurance concerns left only the most dedicated, who had spent as much as $2,000 of their own money during their volunteer careers to purchase uniforms, gear and guns to meet increasing standards.

"It was long in coming, a decision that took several years to make ... and we thought it was just necessary to do," said the division's deputy director, Lawrence Herrighty.

Liability concerns came to a head, authorities said, after the 2006 fatal shooting of a member of the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation by a state park police officer during a violent confrontation in the forested hills of Bergen County. The shooting unfolded after several park officers pursued people they said were illegally riding all-terrain vehicles.

One park officer was indicted last year on a charge of reckless manslaughter, and a tribe member was indicted on a charge of beating a female park officer with her own baton. The criminal cases, as well as lawsuits, are pending.

"This probably wouldn't be an issue if not for the incident on Ramapo Mountain," Cussens told the Fish and Game Council.

Though no conservation officers or deputies were involved, the state concluded it could not properly protect the deputies from the possibility of litigation if an arrest turned violent.

Chiusolo disagreed with the conclusion, saying he believed deputies were immune from liability under the federal Volunteer Protection Act, which safeguards volunteers with nonprofit organizations from civil claims. State authorities, however, contend it does not cover "nontraditional" law enforcement officers like the deputies.

For now, New Jersey's 55 full-time conservation officers will patrol alone, and that's already posing complications. Bureau operating procedures, for instance, require that two officers be assigned to some tasks, such as night patrols. Deputies often helped fill out those two-man teams.

"Now, they're going to have to pay two full-time officers to patrol together," said Harley Simons, 51, a Pemberton resident who worked as a deputy for 17 years. "I don't know how they'll do it without deputies."

When he was out on patrol, Simons often brought along his dog, a field spaniel trained to track and to sniff out weapons and ammunition. The dog came in handy when people tried to hide guns in the woods, he said.

Chiusolo said the full-time force is already spread too thin as it tries to cover the entire state.

"Dumping will increase," he said. "And how can we acquire more Green Acres land when we don't have enough manpower to patrol what we already have?"

He said he worried, too, about the safety of officers on patrol alone. While the job is different than it was a century ago, when two New Jersey "game wardens" were murdered by poachers, officers still deal at times with armed and uncooperative people. In such situations, Chiusolo said, officers "need a second pair of eyes."

Beyond the safety issue, the deputies say they will miss doing a job they have come to love, one that allowed them to work in the outdoors, even if it left them less time to enjoy the kinds of activities -- hunting and fishing, for example -- that drew them to the job in the first place.

"What makes someone want to do it? That's hard to say," Simons said. "What makes a volunteer fireman do what he does? That can be dangerous work, too. I'm really going to miss it. I don't think it's fully sunk in. I'm having a real hard time letting go."

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What a shame..A sign of the times when they have to be concerned about potential lawsuits.It is a very real concern unfourtunatley..It's sad when guys who volunteer time now have to be lumped into the fray..

It's going to greatly stress an already thinned out CO ranks..

How will they enforce a saltwater license..??

A million dollars in insurance..It's Unfluckinbelievable,

makes you wonder how ANYONE makes a living in our state..

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There is just no common freaking sense left in the world. Its all backwards lately.

 

Our population of Deer are controlled by fenders and chop shops, we have migratory geese who live here and we cant get it together to VOLUNTEER to take care of our most precious resource.mad.gif BOO to NJ for not finding some money to PAY THESE PEOPLE instead of making them volunteer therby paying for special insurance. Are you telling me there is not $1 million of ill gotten graft out there? These politicians look at pollution as a way to make money, not a problem. They suck in the outdoors and dont care about it. They care about YOUR money.

 

Is it me or does it seem like things are coming to a head lately? Can things keep up like this? At some point I have to shrug my shoulders when they ask me for more money and say 'I dont know what to tell ya, youze guyz got it all'...

 

Go out West and look at how those states manage and LOVE their natural resources. Look at how the conservation officer and hunter are LAUDED and rewarded for responsible stewardship. Also take a look at how many of these type of states are NOT in line for govt money like Corzine, Patterson and their ilk.

 

Soon, I am just gonna say no.mad.gif FU

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View PostWhat a shame..A sign of the times when they have to be concerned about potential lawsuits.It is a very real concern unfourtunatley..It's sad when guys who volunteer time now have to be lumped into the fray..

It's going to greatly stress an already thinned out CO ranks..

How will they enforce a saltwater license..??

A million dollars in insurance..It's Unfluckinbelievable,

makes you wonder how ANYONE makes a living in our state..

 

Im one of the 39 deputies. I have 19 years with the marine division. The Million isnt for insurance. It is an estimate of what it would take to send us for the aditional training that would give us full police power. They felt the fact that our training was less then the full time CO'S would result in lawsuits and us loosing everything we owned if we needed to use deadly force, even if we were right if everything we did. Even worse would be impisonment like the state park officer now faces form the incedent on the indian reservation. If the story I heard is correct he did nothing wrong. He was following the book.

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The State of New Jersey is #1 when it comes to getting it wrong. It's just that simple.

Nothing is ever right in this state. You would think the politicians would ask themselves why.

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I fear that this is just a small taste of things to come. When times are tough, the environment always takes a hit. In a somewhat similar situation, the environmental programs at IBSP may be decimated this year. Most people don't realize what goes on in the park outside of their personal experience. The fishermen utilize it one way, the daily summer patrons in another. Additionally, there are school groups, researchers, scouts, nature enthusiasts, birders (yes piping plover lovers too!), and the list goes on.

Tens of thousands of people each year utilize the nature center and take tours to learn about this amazing ecosystem. Many of them never even see the beach because their interest is focused on other areas.

 

It all may come to a screeching halt this year. The interpretive supervisor retired last year, and it looks like she will not be replaced. In my opinion, it is very short sighted. The state contends that they are saving $ by reducing staff. In truth, you're talking about one full-time position and a few hourly seasonal positions. Last year alone, the programs serviced thousands of people, many of who paid the gate fee just to visit the nature center or take a tour. Therefore, much of the savings will be lost to reduced fees at the gate. We are currently looking to salvage some kind of program for this summer, but it will not be the same. When I know more, I will be putting the word out for volunteers. It may be the only way that we can survive.

 

Anyway, I didn't mean to hijack this thread. It's just another sign of the times.

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This is the State Of Confusion...........oh I meant New Jersey.

 

How could anyone in their right mind want a job working for this state and the lawyers who will never back them up and always seek to prosecute you here?

 

Just read the NJ Legal statutes on self-defense..........you may as well just leave your front doors open and drive off in your vehicle......... if you can afford the insurance here.

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former officers

union representatives

state lawyers

biggrin.gif

 

Bureau operating procedures, for instance, require that two officers be assigned to some tasks, such as night patrols. Deputies often helped fill out those two-man teams.

"Now, they're going to have to pay two full-time officers to patrol together,"

 

 

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When are they going to start downsizing the state lawyers and insurance agents? Maybe if they would shut their mouths once in a while, something productive might actually come out of Trenton. Shame on the state for what they are doing. Why are these legislators getting re-elected year after year after year anyway??

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View PostWhen are they going to start downsizing the state lawyers and insurance agents? Maybe if they would shut their mouths once in a while, something productive might actually come out of Trenton. Shame on the state for what they are doing. Why are these legislators getting re-elected year after year after year anyway??

 

It will stop when the people stop suing the state over pretty much everything. Because each time they lose it comes out of your taxes. it's a whole more cost effective to hire lawyers then it is to keep paying out multi-million dollar suits every month or so

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