While the role of the public in helping catch and prosecute wildlife violators is critical, caution should be taken at a potential crime scene. Arizona Game and Fish Department law enforcement officers want the public to know there are important “should” and “should not’s” in trying to assist in apprehending criminals.
“The desire of the public to help us catch violators is great. However, there are instances when those desires can actually hinder law enforcement efforts,” said Ken Dinquel, Operation Game Thief (OGT) program manager.
Dinquel explained that those encountering violations sometimes inform the violator they will be calling the Operation Game Thief 24-hour hotline.
Contact OGT ASAP
“At that point the violator vacates the scene before law enforcement personnel can arrive,” Dinquel said. “A better approach is to avoid contact, leave the scene, and call the OGT hotline or submit information through the OGT Web site as soon as possible with details.”
Dinquel added that license plate numbers, names (if known), vehicle descriptions, and GPS coordinates are all important pieces of information an officer can use.
Another common mistake is getting too close or examining a dead animal.
“Additional footprints, tire tracks, and general disturbance of the area make an investigation difficult, if not impossible,” Dinquel explained. “If the death of a wild animal appears to be suspicious, people should assume a violation has occurred, contact OGT, and provide the location. Do not disturb the area around the site.”
Stay Out Of Harm’s Way
Individuals should also remember that confronting suspected violators in the backcountry could be dangerous.
“Approaching a violator is not the best course of action,” Dinquel warned. “Allow trained law enforcement officers to handle such situations. Individuals should focus on being a good witness and never put themselves in harm’s way.”
Dinquel said information regarding potential criminal acts can also be obtained in a variety of other ways, including overhearing a poacher brag in a bar or restaurant.
“These types of reports, although not from the field, are also valuable,” Dinquel said. “When you get enough pieces of information, you can complete the puzzle. But, again, do not inform the individual you will be filing a report.”
Dinquel stressed the importance of using OGT as the only means for reporting potential violations. Confidentiality can’t be offered when calling a regional office or headquarters.
Individuals witnessing or suspecting a violation should call OGT toll free, 24 hours a day at (800) 352-0700. Web submissions can be reported via the Internet by going to azgfd.gov/thief. Callers will remain anonymous. The OGT program may pay rewards for information leading to the arrest of a suspect in a case.
If in the field, OGT information can be found on the hunting license.
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