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When warden recruits finish their first round of training, they can't wait to get out in the field. Typically they have two or three short-term assignments at posts scattered across the state. Training in different regions helps the new warden experience different resource problems, cultures and perspectives.
At each station, the trainee meets officers from other law enforcement agencies, but there isn't much time to build working relationships. Even so, the introductions lay the base for future contacts that will prove invaluable throughout a warden's career.
As a warden trainee, I soon learned how valuable such relationships could be. In October 1978, I was stationed in Vernon County, a mostly rural county in southwestern Wisconsin. When working deer shiners, Wallin was surprised to learn that the Vernon County Sheriff's Department had no car on the road after midnight on weekdays or after 2 a.m. on weekends. If something happened that needed an immediate response, a deputy had to be called. In those days, most wardens had no direct radio contact with the sheriffs' departments and had to go through the State Patrol for all radio traffic.
Many times I would be looking for a person or vehicle involved in an alleged violation and would find that local officers who heard the radio traffic aided in the search. Sometimes the local officers found the potential violators first, stopped them and held them until I arrived.
Officers in other agencies provided a wealth of information. Vernon County Deputy Roger Jones, the night dispatcher in the Sheriff's Department, told me that officers in the hilly county used landmarks to quickly communicate reference points by radio. Vernon County is full of winding roads and it's easy to lose your way, especially in the dark or fog. Directions were faster if the dispatcher could give them by using the closest landmark as a starting point. Jones would drill me about the names and locations of these reference points, and after a couple of weeks, I knew where all of the landmarks were.
It was only natural that I wanted to return the favors: I helped the officers search for fugitives in a wooded area; apprehended a person wanted for two murders; arrested armed burglars; and searched for elderly or ill people who had wandered away from their homes.
Law enforcement officers are usually in short supply in rural areas, so it's not unusual for wardens to help serve a search warrant. This is especially true when a lengthy, complicated investigation leads to simultaneous searches or multiple arrests. Thus I have helped bust numerous indoor and outdoor marijuana-growing operations, including one in which hundreds of pounds were seized. I also helped bust one of the largest methamphetamine labs in Wisconsin.
An exciting incident occurred on a stakeout with county officers. Two armed crooks burglarized the building they were watching, and the officers nabbed the thieves on the spot. Many officers work a whole career without catching a burglar in the act.
Providing back-up to the sheriff once landed me in federal court as a witness in a civil suit against the sheriff. The suit was dismissed by the federal magistrate as "one of the most flagrant, frivolous suits ever to come into that court."
I spend an average of 40 to 50 hours annually helping officers from other agencies, but it pays off. A few years ago, I was discussing the situation with an administrator who came on a ride-along. The administrator thought this part of the warden's workload could be greatly reduced. I defended the assistance as an efficient use of time, believing that wardens received more help than they gave, because other law enforcement services are bigger.
The discussion moved on, but a few minutes later we got a radio call from a police investigator who had received information about an illegal deer harvest while working on a case. We were about 40 miles away, working on another complaint. The investigator said he would follow up and leave me a report in my mailbox. The statement the investigator obtained helped me file charges on two illegal deer harvests. The information officers share trims hours from investigations and provides better service with fewer individuals.
Safety is the strongest reason officers of all agencies work together. When you need a back-up in a dangerous situation, you really don't care which squad provides help as long as it's there immediately.
Richard Wallin is a warden in Vernon County.