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WDFW Enforcement is divided into two patrol sections, Marine and Land, although responsibilities often overlap and the two sections commonly assist each other. The following are real life events that provide a snapshot of fish and wildlife enforcement activity in Washington State. These examples show the diversity of issues that Fish and Wildlife Police Officers ("Game Wardens") encounter while protecting your natural resources, but are by no means all encompassing of our many accomplishments. All violations are considered alleged unless a conviction has been secured.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Unknown Dangers of an Officer's Routine

In-progress night poaching, domestic violence in a camp, industrial-sized marijuana plantations on public land, arrest warrant service... these are activities that our officers often respond to, and they accept and plan for the obvious safety risks that are involved.

While potential dangers can be mitigated if a violator's intent is known, and the Officer has time for a planned and proper approach, nothing is guaranteed in our business. It’s the unknown that poses the greatest risk, especially when coupled with what some classify as (and I hesitate to use the word) "routine" work.  

A Washington State Trooper was tragically killed recently, during what began as a traffic stop, probably related to some minor violation. Stopping a vehicle for a traffic infraction was a routine Trooper Radulescu had practiced a thousand times without incident. Similarly, a Fish and Wildlife Officer's field check of a person who outwardly appears to be legally participating in outdoor activities can also be considered routine. But we all know appearances can be deceiving.

Officer Chad McGary and Captain Chris Anderson were reminded of this a couple of years ago when they found themselves in a situation that could very easily have ended in tragedy if it wasn't for their quick thinking and level heads. What began as a routine fishing license check quickly turned into one officer being held hostage at knife point, while the other exchanged gunfire with a second subject. Turns out the suspect was in the country illegally and concerned about being armed. The suspect is still in the country where he is residing in a Washington State Corrections facility for the next 30 years.

The most recent incident of a routine contact gone wrong had striking similarities. While conducting license checks a few weeks ago,  Officer Brandon Chamberlin contacted a man and woman fishing at Horseshoe Lake in Clark County. What he didn't know was that the man was wanted on several arrest warrants, and had no interest in being discovered and hauled into jail. The two gave false names to Officer Chamberlin when he started to write them tickets for fishing without a license. As he escorted them to his vehicle to verify their identities, the man bolted. Officer Chamberlin gave chase and wrestled him to the ground, at which time Officer Chamberlin was thrown through a fence, hitting his head on a post. He deployed his Taser, but the suspect jerked the probes out of his body and kept running. He circled back to his vehicle and sped off, with Officer Chamberlin and Cowlitz County Sheriff's Deputies in hot pursuit.

The man eventually tipped his vehicle on its side, miraculously righted it, and continued on. As Washington State Patrol Troopers and Woodland Police Officers were lining up their patrol vehicles in a pursuit intervention technique to stop the fleeing suspect, the man swerved and hit a Woodland Police patrol car, effectively putting an end to the pursuit and the suspect's hopes of avoiding jail time. The suspect was taken into custody and booked into the Clark County Jail for multiple crimes.

Luckily, Officer Chamberlin sustained only cuts and abrasions to his hands and a raspberry where he hit his head on the fence post. The Woodland Police Officer whose patrol car was hit was not injured.

This incident is just one more reminder of the dangers our Officers encounter while protecting the public and our state's natural resources. And although, like you, our Officers may go through the same routine while leaving home each day, we must remember that nothing in life is guaranteed, and nothing in natural resource law enforcement can ever be considered routine.

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