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New Conservation Officer

Madison's Wehner earns place in state's
elite Conservation Officer Corp

He is assigned to Tippecanoe, Benton counties

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

(December 2003) – On Monday, July 7, 40 men and women, chosen from nearly 700 applicants entered the Indiana conservation officer training academy in Plainfield, Ind. By Wednesday, July 9, more than a dozen had left, and at the end of the first week the class size had been reduced by more than half.
Those who remained and the 10 alternates who took the place of those who left endured 16 weeks of intense physical conditioning and completed more than 600 hours of instruction in areas such as fish and wildlife laws, watercraft operation, ATV laws, ATV operation, ATV accident investigation, river rescue, and waterfowl identification and enforcement.

Brad Wehner

Photo by Ruth Wright

The Riverview lodge at Clifty Falls State Park is coming down for a new building.

On Oct. 24, those 25 individuals, the 27th recruit class, became the newest conservation officers of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in a ceremony in the Statehouse rotunda. Among the recruits was Brad Wehner, 30, of Madison, Ind.
Wehner, the son of Kenny and Polly Wehner of Madison, is a 1993 graduate of Madison Consolidated High School and a 1995 graduate of Vincennes University, where he earned an associates degree in conservation law enforcement. After working for a short time as a jailer, he became a Madison police officer in 1999.
Because he was formerly a police officer, Wehner was allowed to forego the second round of the conservation officer training process, a 15-week basic law enforcement training program at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, also in Plainfield. Wehner had been through the academy already in 1999.
Now a little ahead of his classmates, Wehner is completing 10 weeks of field training under Jefferson County conservation officer Andy Crozier.
“The first year’s real critical. It’s still a learning process at that point,” said Crozier, a 16-year veteran of the DNR.
Like Wehner, most officers return to their home districts for field training. After field training, they are then assigned to a county or district, where they will serve for at least one year. After a year, they may apply for a transfer if openings exist.
Wehner has received an assignment in Tippecanoe and Benton counties. He will move there with his wife, Carla, and their two daughters after he completes field training under Crozier.
Because there have to be at least 10 openings for conservation officers before a class is formed, the academy does not operate every year. “It’s been five years since the last training,” said Crozier.
Those who apply to attend the conservation officer training academy must have at least 65 hours of college credit and be at least 21 years old upon graduation. If these requirements are met, applicants must then take a series of personality and standardized tests to determine if they are right for the job. A small percentage is then chosen, based on the test results, to enter the training academy.
The first six weeks of the academy are especially grueling, according to Wehner.
Pre-dawn runs, classroom instruction with push-ups, sit-ups and running in place are enough to make even the fittest recruits long for a break.
“You don’t dare doze off in class,” Wehner said. Besides sleeping and eating – to which little time is allotted – the only breaks are on the weekends, when the recruits are allowed to return home. No communication with friends or family is permitted during the week. The academy averages a 50 percent graduation rate.
Conservation officers, who have the same authority as police officers, have the primary responsibility to enforce Indiana’s conservation and natural resources laws, but also work with local law enforcement on other criminal investigations.
Formal enforcement of Indiana’s fish and wildlife laws dates to 1897 when the legislature authorized the commissioner of fisheries to appoint deputies in every county of the state. Evidence exists that the commissioner did appoint a chief deputy who traveled around the state enforcing the fish laws with the assistance of other deputies.
In 1889 the legislature abolished the position of commissioner of fisheries and created the commissioner of fish and game. Twelve years later, in 1911, the General Assembly authorized the payment of a salary to game wardens. Prior to the establishment of a salary, game wardens collected a fee for every conviction that resulted from an arrest they made.

 

 

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