Thursday, December 8, 2011

Is the DFG's strong arm about to get stronger?

If you're in Redding and you're not doing anything after work tonight, you might be interested in what's happening at Turtle Bay, where a committee is taking input on the state Department of Fish and Game/Fish and Game Commission vision thing. The panel's roundtable meeting starts at 5:30 p.m.

Among the proposals being considered are about 40 action items under the heading of "Compliance" and fitting this summary of their goals: "Consistent and publicly visible enforcement and compliance, supported by highly trained personnel and extensive public awareness of statewide rules, regulations and associated public trust benefits."

The proposed action items include, in the document's exact words:

-- Utilize efforts by partners to promote DFG mission (i.e. The Humane Society enforcement efforts, resource conservation district land owner outreach), with proper firewalls and considerations of public perception of partners

-- Increase DFG presence in the local community including public outreach efforts and local and regional resource management efforts

-- Provide education to other law enforcement agencies about DFG laws

-- Increase the number of wardens (requires addressing collective bargaining issues)

-- Increase DFG ability to gather evidence as needed to enforce laws ...

-- More or more effective enforcement partnerships

-- Increase both fines and penalties with fines used to pay resources needed to implement

-- Create law enforcement specialty units within the DFG law enforcement division comprised of additional enforcement positions (must have additional funding in place for the PY's)

1. Environmental Crimes Unit specializing in the investigation of Fish and Game Code sections 1600 and 5650 (water pollution and streambed habitat destruction)

2. An overt Detective Unit to lead complex statewide and interstate poaching investigations, streamline intelligence on repeat offenders, and use of specialized surveillance equipment to effectively apprehend serious poachers

3. Increase the size of the Special Operations (Covert) Unit (SOU)

-- Activity - make sure everyone knows the laws and the consequences of breaking them

-- Improve coordination with AG's Special Prosecutor

-- Educate district attorneys and judicial branch about DFG laws

-- Develop a cadre of experienced prosecutors to charge and try these cases (funded by fines?) (e.g. circuit DA system). Same as create special district attorney capacity focused on F&G Code violations (housed in Sacramento) to assist all county district attorneys ...

-- Assign DFG wardens to coordinate with California District Attorneys' Association (CDAA) to ensure appropriate and consistent prosecution. Could ensure consistency with all 58 counties and enhance Environmental Crimes Circuit Prosecutors Project, sponsored by the CDAA (coalition of district attorneys cross-deputized in multiple counties to specialize in prosecuting poaching and other environmental crimes)

-- Refine the Uniform Bail and Penalty Schedule - California Rules of Court (for the California Fish and Game Code and the Title 14 California Code of Regulations) and include additional code sections not mentioned in the Bail Schedule. Require distribution of the F&G/T14 Bail Schedule to the respective courts in all 58 counties

-- Review types of violations to determine which should be raised from misdemeanor to felony (such as abalone violations). Work with wardens to do this task

Again, these bullet points are not my words but were taken directly from the vision document. The document also contains language about improving communication with the public and hiring staff regionally to match the regional make-up. However, there are no provisions that I could find requiring wardens or other Fish and Game officials to be trained on the finer points of property or adjudicated water rights, or observing and respecting the jurisdiction of local law enforcement entities.

Now I don't think you'll find too many people who are against cracking down on poachers, especially the ones who engage in it large-scale for big money. But the average person could be pardoned for reading this document and surmising they're planning on hauling a heck of a lot of people off to jail "in all 58 counties" -- and trampling on the jurisdictions of local law enforcement and court systems in the process.

Remember that this agency already has come under fire for reported heavy-handedness on the part of its wardens, and for enabling a reality TV crew to violate suspects' due-process rights. Could the DFG's newly minted Environmental Crimes Unit or covert Special Ops unit head up to Siskiyou County, start arresting farmers and marching them in front of some special prosecutor in Sacramento? One could be excused for wondering.

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