Ranks of deputies in agency thinning

Wilkes-Barre — Bill McGlone was the manager of a supermarket in Mount Pocono when he decided to take a second job in a vastly different career field.

The husband of one of McGlone’s employees was a deputy wildlife conservation officer, and she told him the Pennsyl­vania Game Commission was looking for more. McGlone, who was an avid hunter, signed up and eventually became one of 250 deputies in the northeast region.

That was 1992, and today the deputy ranks have dwindled to just 38 (including two to be sworn in this month) in the region. It’s a drop that is attributable to several factors and one that has left the Game Commission with several districts patrolled by a single wildlife conservation officer.

“The law enforcement out there for the Game Commission is very light,” McGlone said. “When I came on in Monroe County, there were four deputies in the district. Now, it’s just me.”

Time and money are two main reasons why the deputy ranks have dwindled. For their work, deputies receive an $80 daily stipend and a uniform. Deputies are expected to supply their own firearm, holster and radio and use their own gas and vehicle while on the job.

The job, which is considered volunteer, also requires an extensive amount of training and testing – a process that takes nearly two years.

“It’s a lot for a person to take on for little or no money,” Northeast Region Law Enforcement Supervisor Mark Rutkowski said. “The main reason people do it is they have a love of the outdoors and hunting. They get to see things most people just wish they could be a part of.”

For Kingston resident Richard Stefanides, who has been a deputy since 2009 and currently works with Conservation Officer Phil White in Luzerne County, working with wildlife is the biggest benefit of the job. Stefanides routinely goes along to help with bear tagging and relocating, a duty that gives him an up-close look at the state’s bruins.

A close second is playing a part in the apprehension of a poacher – an element of the job that McGlone enjoys as well.

“You get satisfaction when you play a role in helping the resource and I’ve really learned a lot through it,” he said. “This was never something I did for the pay. You know you’re going to spend your own money to do this. It’s really about a love for wildlife.”

Even though deputy numbers are down, Rutkowski said the agency is still selective about who it accepts for the job. Those who want to become a deputy just to experience the thrill of carrying a gun and a badge are the types the agency avoids, Rutkowski said.

“But someone who is dedicated to protecting our wildlife resources and works well with the public, those are important attributes,” he said. “We’re not necessarily turning people away, but we are a little bit picky about it.”

For Stefanides, being a deputy appealed to him because he wanted to give back to the resource and liked the fact that the job afforded him more time to spend outdoors. Having a job that allows him to work from home gives Stefanides the flexibility to be on call at any time, he said.

Still, a call from the wildlife conservation officer means Stefanides will have to miss out on some family time. It’s another sacrifice that comes with the job.

“Your family has to be very understanding and supportive,” he said.

Because every call is different, Stefanides noted the job is always changing and never gets mundane. The calls, which could range from a sick skunk in Kingston to suspicious activity in a remote area, always gives him an opportunity to put his training to work.

“You can pull up to a game lands parking lot late at night and see a car sitting there. Is it people parking? Doing drugs? Are they armed? That’s where your training and experience come in,” Stefanides said. “No two times are ever alike.”

While serving as a deputy doesn’t mean that person will eventually be promoted to a full-time conservation officer, it is a good stepping stone for the position in the sense that it offers valuable training and experience.

Rutkowski said many of the commissioned officers in the northeast region began their careers as deputies, himself included. He was a paramedic for 13 years before becoming a deputy in 1992. Rutkowski became a deputy because he wanted to give back to the resource, but it wasn’t long before the volunteer, part-time post changed his career path.

“In the early 1990s, I was in a canoe on Mud Pond in Lackawanna County working the first day of duck season with another deputy, Victor Rosa,” Rutkowski said. “It was just getting light over the pond, and Vic said, ‘Could you imagine doing this for a living?’ It took me seven years, but I got into the training school and became a wildlife conservation officer after that.”

For McGlone, who is 58, he has no intentions of becoming a full-time officer, but would like to remain a deputy until he has reached the maximum age of 70.

“I’m still as enthused about it as I was 20 years ago,” he said. “You really get a satisfaction from knowing you’re helping the WCOs and the resource. Sure there are sacrifices, such as less time to hunt. But you’re outdoors much more.”

And that’s exactly what Rut­kowski hopes will compel more people to explore becoming a deputy conservation officer.

“If you want to give something back to the resource, and have the time and the will to do it, then the program might be beneficial for you,” he said. 

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