Conservation Police are the real deal

In my last column, I started to tell you about my experience riding along with Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police Officer Rich Riedel .

First, let’s explore what it means to be a CPO.

The common misconception I hear is, “These guys aren’t real cops. They’re just fish and deer police. They’re merely license checkers!” Believe me, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

They are Illinois State Police officers. They’ve been trained at the State Police Academy, the same as troopers patrolling I-90. In addition to this training, they are further trained in the rules, regulations and laws concerning the IDNR. They can bust you for fish and game violations, and they can bust you for any other law that you break.

Instead of being thought of as “fish cops,” I look at them as “super cops.” They have all of the powers of a state trooper and have to be knowledgeable about a lot more.

In addition, the officers are appointed to serve the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when required. They can be asked to assist in cases that involve federal crimes such as the killing of endangered species and the importation of banned animals, meaning they must know even more rules and regulations.

Riedel has been on the force for 22 years and has never said a bad word to me about the IDNR or the Conservation Police.

Through other sources, I have learned that the job has difficulties.

The current economy has drained the state’s budget. The IDNR budget has been slashed repeatedly by our past two governors.

The budget cuts have made the Conservation Police’s job more difficult. Orders for new patrol cars have been canceled, leaving the officers using high-mileage cars. They have not replaced their bullet-proof vests on schedule.

There also was no money in the budget for night-vision goggles, so Rich Gallagher and the Fox River Valley Chapter of Muskies Inc. bought two pairs and gave them to the officers. These guys need some help to do their jobs safely and properly.

What’s the purpose of the Conservation Police? Is it just enforcing the laws? Let’s let the Illinois Conservation Police Lodge explain. The organization was chartered with these objectives:

“Promotion of: The wise and ethical use of the natural resources of the State of Illinois; the scientific management of those resources while giving consideration to the needs and opinions of the citizens of the state in management; legislation which benefits the natural resources, hunters, fishermen and all outdoor recreation pursuits.

“Provide: Scholarships for college students pursuing careers in natural resource protection; a means of interaction between the CPO’s and police officers in other fields and agencies. Improve public awareness and support for the natural resource protection field.

“To work for the protection and safety of the public while they are enjoying their outdoor pursuits. To promote professional, community based police work by CPOs. To educate the citizens of Illinois about the natural resources of the state and the value of the protection provided by the laws and by the CPOs.”

That is quite a bit to try to accomplish.

I saw firsthand how Riedel worked at these goals. When the officers caught a poacher at our first stop, Riedel talked to the man while Officer Eric Schreiber wrote the citations.

Riedel asked the man if he had read the rule book. He asked him if he knew the reasons that our deer hunting laws existed. He wasn’t just interested in making an arrest, he wanted to make sure that a lesson was learned and he did it in a pleasant, nonconfrontational manner.

When Riedel and I made the rounds at a couple of local lakes and rivers, it wasn’t just about checking licenses. Riedel was friendly, asking how the fishing was and chatting a little with each angler.

I was surprised that a number of fishermen asked Riedel questions about the nuances of a couple of laws. He was able to explain the answers in an easy to understand manner. I am sure these people came away with a good feeling about what the Consevation Police were all about.

At the end of the shift, was a stop where Riedel discovered an SUV in a parking lot with forged temporary Tennessee tags, which is a felony. Riedel called for the assistance of a pair of Carpentersville officers.

After waiting a while, three men in their 20s walked out of the woods with three small children. The cops separated the men to question them.

One was asked if they had any weapons in their possession. He responded that he had an ax in his pocket and one of the other guys had a machete in his. I was astounded.

They took identification from two of the men and called it in. The men were clear.

The third man admitted that he was the owner of the SUV.

He had no identification. They asked for his info and called it in. That man had an outstanding warrant. So here he is with a warrant, no driver’s license and forged tags on his car.

The officers then searched the three men.

The man with the warrant was then handcuffed. He started screaming when he was cuffed and kept screaming after being put in the squad car.

Riedel’s day began with busting a poacher in the dark who was armed with a loaded weapon. Riding with a CPO was definitely a memorable experience for me.

To be truthful, I was glad it was over.

I definitely think about the Conservation Police in a different light after my day on patrol.

• Northwest Herald outdoors columnist Steve Sarley’s radio show, “The Outdoors Experience,” airs live at 5 a.m. Sundays on AM-560. He can be contacted at sarfishing@yahoo.com.

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