Q&A With IDNR’s Director of Law Enforcement
By Alan Garbers
In January 2010 Colonel Scotty Wilson became the new director of the Law Enforcement Division of the INDR. After being the top Indiana Conservation Officer for a year we thought it would be interesting to catch up with Col. Wilson and see how things are going and what the future might hold under his direction.
ION: How has your first year as director been?
Col. Wilson: It’s been a busy year! Due to a change in the retirement benefits several Officers and staff members close to retiring decided to retire early. As a result of this and normal attrition we experienced thirty-four vacancies as of May 2011.
ION: What else has changed during this last year?
Col. Wilson: Each district used to have a Commander and an Assistant Commander, with the Assistant Commander’s position being filled with a 1st Sergeant. Now when a 1st Sergeant retires we replace the position with three Corporal positions to get more front-line supervisors out in the field. This started prior to my direction but with all the retirements, we’ve had more opportunities to put it into action.
ION: What’s your history with the DNR?
Col. Wilson: In 1985 I was assigned as a field officer in Knox County. I worked in SW Indiana along the Wabash for two years. I then transferred to Perry County and worked there until 2001, when I received a promotion to the position of District 7 Field Commander back in the SW portion of the state. In 2006 I was promoted to the Logistics Major which is an executive position here at headquarters. In 2009 I was promoted to the position of Executive Officer and held that position until being appointed as Director by Governor Daniels.
ION: How has an ICO’s role changed since you started?
Col. Wilson: Our role hasn’t changed but the application of it has. One big change is going to be the new 24-hour dispatch center. We’ve never had 24-hour dispatch center for this organization before. In the past if a person needed assistance they had to contact a regional dispatcher between 8am and midnight at one number, a local county sheriff at another number, or a district office from 8am to 4:30pm at another number… Soon they will be able to call just one number 24 hours a day, seven days a week to have an ICO respond. It will be quite a milestone because not only will a citizen be able to contact the dispatcher 24/7, so will the ICO’s, and the dispatchers will know who needs to be contacted for each situation and how to get in touch with them in the quickest manner. Along with this, ICO’s will still maintain contact and dispatch capabilities with local law enforcement in their assigned areas.
ION: What about your role in the future?
Col. Wilson: Our role won’t change but we are making sure we remain focused on it. To do our job properly we must get our boots dirty, because our job starts where the blacktop stops or the water begins. And we must not allow tasks outside of our primary area of responsibility distract us from our mission. Our role with Homeland Security is supporting the community and other law enforcement agencies by focusing on what we do best with the special training and resources we use every day, not doing a job that another agency is already doing. A good example is our emergency response expertise in a waterborne environment, like the flooding we had in 2008.
ION: What will be your biggest challenge?
Col. Wilson: Technology and budgeting our funds. Both continue to change the way we do business. Cyber crimes in wildlife trafficking is common and you can even find people on Craigslist selling animal parts. We monitor the Internet for wildlife crimes and sometimes concerned citizens or other agencies bring illegal activity to our attention. We don’t monitor Facebook, but if probable cause is brought to us, we can find some pretty incriminating evidence. Our other challenge is stretching the money we receive to do our jobs. Our department budget is eighteen percent less than it was three years ago but we still need to buy bullets, boots, and gas. We used to rotate our vehicles out of service at 75,000 miles. Now we’ve extended that to 140,000 miles, and many of those miles are spent towing boats or other gear. Steps like that help make the most of the money we receive to do the job the public expects from us.
ION: With all of the recent retirements, how are you filling the vacancies?
Col. Wilson: We are in the process of filling the positions. We have eleven people in the law enforcement academy now but it has been a challenge to find qualified people for the other vacancies. We are law enforcement officers that have the authority to enforce all state statutes, as well as federal fish and wildlife laws, but if they want to run RADAR on the interstate or become a member of a SWAT team, they’ve applied to the wrong agency. They need to understand the issues involved in our natural resources.
ION: Lastly, what new technology will help the new officers?
Col. Wilson: One of the biggest advances is the use of side-scan SONAR. Back when I first started I was sent out to find a missing vehicle in the Ohio River. I was given a large magnet on a 100-foot rope and was told not to lose it because it was the only one we had… Now, with side-scan SONAR we can see a very detailed picture of the bottom. It is especially useful when recovering drowning victims. It used to take five to six days of black-water diving probing for a body. Now we can scan the bottom with such detail that when a diver is sent down the recovery takes just minutes. The shortened search times are merciful for the searchers as well as the family members. We always want to give closure to the victim’s family as soon as we can.
ION would like to thank Col. Scotty Wilson for taking time from his busy schedule to talk with us. If you feel you have what it takes to be an Indiana Conservation Officer go to http://www.in.gov/dnr/lawenfor/2760.htm.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Since this interview was published, the author advised ION editors that he did ask Col. Wilson about ICO traffic stops and if there were quotas. Col. Wilson said there are no quotas but if an officer sees a person driving that may harm someone they have a responsibility to stop them. Garbers left this out of the article in order to meet ION’s standard word count requirements.