In our series Ask a Warden, we interview officers from across the country to learn about their role in protecting our game, fish, public lands, and other resources. In this edition, we asked officers from West Virginia, Minnesota, Georgia, and Arizona if they’ve ever ticketed a friend or family member.
A friend of mine who’s a warden started his career in the corner of the state opposite where he grew up. He says state agencies are particular about making sure officers don’t end up in situations where they might be forced to open up the ticket book on their neighbor, or banker, or preacher, or cousin. Of course this can’t be avoided all the time, so I asked these officers if they’ve ever given a citation to someone they know.
Officer Chris Fitzwater | West Virginia Division of Natural Resources
“I haven’t issued any citations to friends or family members. I have been stationed in several counties throughout three districts in West Virginia, and for most of my career, I’ve worked in areas where I wouldn’t encounter local friends or family members.
“Recently, I received a transfer to work my home district in the county that I’m originally from. Inevitably, I’ll be working the trout streams and the deer woods I grew up in and will come across someone I know, or potentially even a friend violating game laws.
“We all have a job to do and I always treat everyone with the same level of respect and professionalism. If there’s a high-profile case or violation committed by a friend or acquaintance, another officer could handle the investigation or issue the citation. This would eliminate a potential conflict of interest or bias toward friends and family members.”
Officer Ben Huener | Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
“There’s bound to be issues involving friends or family members given that I work in the small community where I went to high school. In these situations, the best thing for an officer to do is simply treat them just like you would anyone else. I make sure to emphasize the fact that I can’t treat them any differently because we have a relationship and I hope they understand.
“I had a situation that involved a juvenile and a pretty serious hunting violation. I’m related to his family and am friends with his father, who seemed pretty upset about the whole deal. He was concerned about the charges I was bringing and the effects they would have on his son’s hunting and school sports eligibility. After some explanation, I reminded the father that I didn’t get to pick and choose my cases and that ultimately it was his son who put us in the awkward situation. I think in the end he understood—we still got a Christmas card from the family that year.”
Warden Barry Britt | Georgia Department of Natural Resources
“I’ve never been in a situation where I caught a family member violating a law. I’m from North Carolina and currently live and work in Georgia, so that hasn’t been an issue for me. However, I’ve had to write citations to individuals that I considered a friend or family member of a friend.
“Early in my career, hunting deer over bait was illegal in Georgia and we focused on that violation during deer season. If bait was in the area, it had to be 200 yards away and out of sight of the hunter. I was made aware of a deer stand baited with whole kernel corn that my sergeant had discovered, so I started working it. One late afternoon, I saw fresh tire tracks going into the property and snuck in on foot where the baited stand was located. The hunter was the father of a friend. It was awkward for sure, but none of us took it personally. I wrote the citation, he paid the fine, and we moved on. Several years after that incident, hunting deer over bait was made legal in that part of the state.”
Law Enforcement Specialist Matt Braun | Arizona Game and Fish
“Thankfully, I’ve never had to do that. It isn’t a fun place for a game warden to be. My policy is to have another officer investigate anything that would even remotely appear be a conflict of interest. It maintains the integrity of the investigation and stifles the rumor mill.
“I have that luxury if the situation ever arises. I’ve always had a neighboring officer living in the same town or a town close by. I know this is not the case for all game wardens, especially those in remote duty stations. I know one of our officers had to cite his brother-in-law. I’m betting family functions were a blast after that.”
Feature image via Captured Creative.