The author (right) and WCO Derek Pritts patrol the Susquehanna River.
I've been in this partnership with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission since 1985. I guess you could say that it is sort of in my blood. My grandfather, Victor L. Brooks, was a barber by day and a Deputy Game Protector (now, Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer) after the last "shave and a haircut" of the day. Although I do not recall my grandfather's deputy role (he passed away when I was five years old), I sense my role as a Deputy Waterways Conservation Officer (DWCO) is based on fate.
Allow me to explain. I graduated from West Chester University with a B.S. degree in Health and Physical Education in the fall of 1984. Between substitute teaching assignments, I worked at a local grocery store. During a day at the store, Dale Boyer approached me about possibly becoming a deputy with what was then the Pennsylvania Fish Commission. I knew Dale from our time in the Boy Scouts. Dale said, "Hey Dave, you like the outdoors. Did you ever think of becoming a deputy fish warden?"
I don't recall my answer to Dale, but before I knew it I received a packet of information in the mail from my district's WCO, Derek Pritts. Later came an interview followed by a written test. In February 1985 I was accepted into the next class of Deputy Waterways Conservation Officers for training at the Stackhouse School of Conservation in Bellefonte, Centre County.
To become a deputy, one must be at least 21 years old, be a resident of the state, possess a driver's license, and pass a criminal background check.
By law, deputies are considered volunteers. Deputies are reimbursed for expenses. However, some deputies put in more volunteer duty than paid time. In fact, deputies don't get in this for the money. They become DWCOs for many different reasons.
For me, it's many different reasons, too. My top reasons for becoming a DWCO are having a hand in protecting and
conserving our natural resources and the public relations that come with the job. There's no way I truly can say how
many anglers I've come in contact with over the past 13 years.
With boaters, though, it's a different story. Officers have a "Fish and Boat Warning and Boarding Report" that is submitted monthly. From the beginning I've completed my reports in duplicate, keeping one report in my files. Adding up the monthly boat boarding/inspection totals since 1985, I've accumulated 2,548 boardings, which averages out to be 196 boardings/inspections a year. That's a lot of contact with the boating public. I can't help but think that I've aided the boating public in safety and proper boating technique.
You might ask, "How are you able to be in a position to inspect/board so many boats?" My answer to that is "the draw of the hat." You see, back in April 1985, during a deputy meeting the night before the opening of trout season, WCO Pritts informed the deputies that he was going to designate a Speedwell Forge Lake Boat Maintenance Officer and a Susquehanna River Boat Maintenance Officer. Pritts asked all of us deputies (I think there were five then) to put our names on pieces of paper and place them in his hat. After all names were in his hat, he shook his hat a bit, shuffling the five folded pieces of paper. He then asked a DWCO, it might have been Ray Rudy, to pull a name. The first name pulled was DWCO Ed Shaeffer. Ed was now the designated lake boat officer. Then the next name was drawn. And, you guessed it, it was mine.
When it came to boating, I was as green as my uniform trousers. I had just graduated from Deputy Basic Training. I hardly knew a thing about the patrol boat (a 16-foot Alumacraft with a 50hp Evinrude jetdrive) and the water (the Susquehanna River from the Rt. 30 bridge upriver to York Haven Dam). Pritts' comforting reply was, "It'll be O.K. You have until Memorial Day to be ready!"
Becoming a deputy in a district of a county first depends on the openings in that county. WCOs know how valuable deputies can be. They fill vacancies in a short time. Interested people should contact the nearest regional office for an application. Completed applications are forwarded to the specific district WCO for filing and future consideration.
If accepted and after initial paperwork, the newly appointed deputy must attend training. Currently, a deputy attends five weekends of very intensive training. The weekends are not consecutive. Several weeks between sessions stagger the training. Some topics covered are fish and boat policies, procedures, law, boat operation, unarmed defense and tactical shooting. In addition, all deputies are required to re-certify annually in CPR, first aid, HAZMAT, and firearms use. After the completion of the fifth weekend of training, newly appointed deputies are then assigned to field training for a year with an officer in one's home district. This one-year field training is simply a period during which a newly appointed deputy "rides along" with the WCO or another DWCO while patrolling.
For many DWCOs, the role of a law enforcement officer is just one of many different roles that a DWCO may encounter. Assisting with fish stocking, attendance at sport shows and exhibitions, and giving presentations are common assignments.
For many DWCOs, the role of a law enforcement officer is just one of many different roles that a DWCO may encounter. Assisting with fish stockings, attendance at sport shows/exhibitions, and giving presentations are common assignments. I've given many presentations as part of U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary boating courses and Rotary and Lion's Clubs presentations.
Some DWCOs are also fishing skills and boating safety instructors. I became a Boating and Water Safety Awareness (BWSA)
instructor in 1991. My main reason for becoming a BWSA instructor was to conduct BWSA courses at the high school where I
teach health and physical education. As a BWSA instructor I've also assisted at various state police camp cadet programs
over the years.
A definite highlight of being a BWSA instructor occurred in 1993 when I was awarded the Commission's Outstanding Youth Group Instructor Award. The honor is given to the instructor who has contributed time and service to the promotion and success of the Commission's Boating and Water Safety Awareness program through volunteer efforts in presenting the program to youth organizations.
Another aspect that deputies must consider, both new and veteran, is the additional expense of uniforms, self-defense weapons, and radios, and the use of their personal vehicles. Deputies are required to purchase and wear the same uniform that salaried WCOs wear. Some clothing, though, is provided by the Bureau of Law Enforcement.
A deputy must also provide his or her own firearm. Firearms must be the type and model/style mandated by the
Commission's Bureau of Law Enforcement. Strict enforcement of policies and procedures occurs with all firarms, whether a
DWCO's or a WCO's. Annual inspections and shooting qualifications take place to keep officers current and accountable
with the use of their
Other self-defense weapons that a deputy may purchase are the ASP expandable baton and OC spray (oleoresin capsicum). As with the firearm, for a DWCO to carry and use a baton and/or OC spray, the deputy must attend and successfully pass the required specific training and re-certifications.
A wise investment for a DWCO is to acquire a two-way radio. Because a deputy's work schedule may not be compatible with another DWCO or WCO's work schedule permitting partnered patrols, the only companion and safety net the DWCO has may be the two-way radio. We're often on patrol in out-of-the-way places, and a radio can be indispensable. Depending on a DWCO's county communications system, a high- or low-band radio may be required. So a deputy may indeed need two radios, one of each band, to patrol certain areas successfully. Radios don't come cheap, but in time they definitely pay for themselves.
A sturdy, dependable personal vehicle is very important. A DWCO's assigned district can be hundreds of square miles, and the miles on patrol do add up. In 1997, I logged 2,568 miles while on patrol. In addition, I need to trailer an 18-foot patrol boat during the boating months, so my vehicle is equipped with special suspension, a class III hitch, and appropriate trailer wiring.
As you can see, when you add up all the uniforms, self-defense weapons, radios and vehicle usage, a DWCO's expenses can be substantial. But don't get me wrong­p;a DWCO can prioritize what's needed and when, thus making the actual cost seem more reasonable.
There are some 300 active deputies in the state. We all come from a highly diverse background. Many of us have full-time regular jobs and some of us are retired. For instance, in the Northern Lancaster County district, the deputy force is made up of an electrician, a U.S. Postal Service employee, a county erosion and sedimentation technician, and me, a teacher.
Some of us are able to draw on our personal experiences while patrolling. For example, I'm an avid rock climber, and for years I was eyeing this beautiful, massive rock cliff adjacent to the Susquehanna River in my patrol district. So one day, with the landowner's permission, I decided to place myself atop this cliff and patrol from it, using only binoculars and a static line to rappel down to possible violators. Well, I no sooner rigged my anchor and rappel line when a canoe with two men fishing from it came drifting by the cliff. I noticed that neither displayed a fishing license, and that one of the men had just littered by throwing a soda can onto the river bank. In a few moments, I was rappelling down this 100-foot cliff to the two men in the canoe.
I stopped them and inquired if either had a fishing license. Neither of them did. I then pointed to the fisherman in the bow and said, "You, sir, will be cited for littering," and held up the discarded soda can. His look was of astonishment and disbelief. He said, "Where did you come from?" I pointed to the cliff with the suspended static line hanging from it. He bowed and shook his head back and forth. Both men were brothers and non-residents, one from Denver, CO and the other from Lansing, MI. Their fines totaled $212.00.
On another occassion, while flying (I also have my private pilot's license), I radioed WCO Pritts that a poacher was fishing before the season in a closed trout stream near Speedwell Forge Lake. Pritts was on his way by car to the lake. I kept an eye on the fisherman by circling the lake until Pritts arrived. The man was heading toward his car just as Pritts arrived. I informed Pritts what the individual was wearing so he could identify him in the parking lot. Pritts detained the man to question him. The man emphatically denied fishing in the stream until WCO Pritts pointed to the sky and explained that an officer had been watching the whole time. The man's response was, "I thought I might be in trouble when that plane came around a second time!" He then acknowledged guilt of the offense.
Often people tell me how my job looks comfortable and easy-going, riding in a patrol boat on a lazy summer afternoon. I quickly relate to them the "other" duties of law enforcement that I encounter, like pollution investigations, warrant service, testifying in court, the dirty and often frustrating boat maintenance tasks, and on and on.
When I reflect on the years, I can't help but think that fate had a role. From the day a friend approached me about the Commission while working in a grocery store, to the "lucky" draw from a hat, to the present day. When I wear the uniform, I remember all the people that the uniform represents, from other fellow DWCOs and WCOs, other staff of the PFBC, and the public.
Whether in or out of uniform, I represent the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am a link in a long chain of dedicated people, and by working together we all make a difference. It's a duty that I take very seriously and I feel very honored to be in this role.
If you are interested in becoming a DWCO, contact the Commission regional law enforcement headquarters for your county. These offices are listed on our Directory page.
July/August 1998 PA Angler & Boater
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