Forest rangers may get police authority

By Steve

Albany — DEC forest rangers would have police powers under
legislation approved by the state House and Senate and set to be
signed by Gov. George Pataki.

The bill was crafted to allow forest rangers to perform police
duties and came in response to the varied situations forest rangers
encounter, particularly while patrolling state lands in more urban
areas of the state.

“About 85 percent (of forest rangers) are in favor of this,”
said Chad Richardson, a forest ranger in Boonville and president of
union Local 1872 of the New York State Forest Rangers union. “It’s
just a good move for the department and it’s good for people who
use state land.”

Richardson said forest rangers spent much of their time in the
law enforcement area now as they encounter various hunting and
fishing violations and even criminal activity while patrolling
state lands and other areas.

“Our guys run into all sorts of things out in the field,” he
said. “They’ve made drug arrests, been involved in pedophile
investigations, all kinds of things. It enhances our ability to do
our job.”

Senate Bill 4157 passed both the Senate and Assembly in June;
Richardson said he expects the bill will be forwarded to the
governor’s desk soon.

Like the recently passed legislation that would allow the use of
rifles in several Southern Tier counties during deer and bear
season, there are waves of approved bills that have yet to be sent
to Pataki for signing.

The bill designates the supervisor of forest rangers, assistant
supervisor, and the various levels of forest rangers as police
officers. Statewide, there are just over 106 forest rangers, as
well as 16 lieutenants, 10 captains, and director and assistant
director, Richardson said.

Sponsored by Sen. Joseph E. Robach (R-I-C-WF) of Greece, the
bill amends the criminal procedure law to give forest rangers
police authority.

“The job of forest ranger has evolved to its present status that
combines the skills of both the traditional firefighter and police
officer,” said a statement attached to the bill. “Forest rangers
are responsible and authorized to enforce all state laws and
regulations, with greater emphasis on the environmental
conservation law. Due to the unique nature of their job, they
should be afforded the protections of Section 1.20 of the Criminal
Procedure Law.”

Forest rangers traditionally direct and participate in search
and rescue missions involving lost individuals, downed aircraft, or
rescue operations for person injured or in danger of injury. “We’re
usually wearing two hats — emergency services and law
enforcement,” Richardson said.

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