LDWF’s Louisiana Operation Game Thief Assists Enforcement Agents In Tracking Wildlife, Fisheries Crimes
story by Adam Einck, LDWF Public Information
Louisiana Operation Game Thief gives Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Agents extra eyes in the field.
Just ask a Sorrento man guilty of hunting turkey out of season.
An anonymous tip came into Louisiana Operation Game Thief that alerted agents to Keanon R. Dickey, 32, and his plan to hunt turkey in St. Francisville on March 24, four days before the beginning of the 2015 turkey season. The tip was so detailed that it gave the exact piece of land where Dickey could be located.
Agents set up surveillance on the area on March 24 and observed Dickey hunting turkey over a baited area during a closed season. He was cited for that violation and also for criminal trespassing because he did not have permission to hunt on the land. The informant received $600 for providing the information that led to the citations.
With only so many agents to cover all the streams, bayous, woods, swamps and coastline of the Sportsman’s Paradise, the LDWF Enforcement Division greatly relies on tips from the public to help enforce Louisiana’s conservation laws.
Agents get tips by making connections with concerned citizens in their local parishes and from those wishing to remain anonymous. They work hand in hand with these people as they work on their cases on a daily basis.
Whether citizens want to remain anonymous or not they may report potential crimes through Louisiana Operation Game Thief and even be eligible for a cash reward.
“There are a variety of ways concerned citizens can report wildlife crimes,” said Lt. Will Roberts, the Louisiana Operation Game Thief Coordinator for LDWF. “Agents can receive tips directly, but we encourage people to use our official hotline or smartphone app, both of which make it a lot easier to get the complaint enrolled into the program and for the person calling it in to qualify for a reward.”
Louisiana Operation Game Thief was established in 1984. Somewhat similar to Crime Stoppers, it provides a 24-hour hotline and smartphone app for users to report wildlife and fisheries-related crimes and receive up to $1,000 in rewards.
To report wildlife and fisheries violations anonymously through the program, citizens can:
- Call LDWF’s 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-800-442-2511
- Text LDWF and the tip to 847411
- Report through the LDWF Tips app, which can be downloaded from the iTunes or Google Play store free of charge.
CitizenObserver, the app provider, uses technology that removes all identifying information before LDWF receives the text so that LDWF cannot identify the sender. App users can also send in photos to help support their claim and to be used as evidence.
“Our dispatchers personally receive the calls and information from the texts and app,’’ Roberts said. “So people that use the hotline are talking to a real live person and their calls are handled in a very efficient manner. The dispatcher that receives the tips then forwards those to the field agents for further investigation.”
Any tip that contains information of flagrant violations of game and fish laws that also leads to an arrest or citation qualifies for a cash reward up to $1,000. The cash rewards are determined at quarterly Louisiana Operation Game Thief board meetings. The board is made up of volunteer outdoor enthusiasts.
Roberts brings cases that may qualify for rewards to the board. Board members sift through the presented cases and determine if a reward will be given and the amount.
“Whether a reward is given or not and the amount of the reward is based on several factors,” Roberts said. “The most important things the board looks at are the severity of the infractions and how much the tip helped with the investigation and subsequent arrests or citations.
“A typical board meeting will have about 20 to 30 cases up for review,” Roberts said. “The normal cases that are reviewed are night hunting deer cases, alligator cases, migratory game bird, over bait, and over the allowed limit cases. The board normally issues out about $2,000 to $5,000 in reward money at any given meeting.”
After the board reviews the cases and settles on rewards and amounts, payments are made. Roberts said the time from tip to reward depends on how long the investigation takes and when the board meetings take place, but usually payments are made within several months of receiving the tip.
In 2016, the Louisiana Operation Game Thief board reviewed 38 cases that led to 58 subjects being cited or arrested and a total of 456 citations issued with a total reward payout of $15,600. From 1984 until the end of 2016, the board has paid out $391,300 in reward money to informants.
Reward funds are raised through private donations, court directed contributions and through contributions from cooperative endeavor agreements with organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and Quality Deer Management Association.
“We are always looking for volunteers for the board or people to donate to the reward fund,’’ Roberts said. “We need those kind of people to keep this successful program going in the future. As agents, we rely on public tips all the time for information and Louisiana Operation Game Thief is a great resource for making cases in an efficient manner. It is a vital tool for any agent in the field and the agents are very appreciative of any tip they receive, especially if it leads to a good case.”
Anyone interested in donating to the reward fund or volunteering as a board member, please contact Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org. Roberts has been an agent for the LDWF Enforcement Division since 2003 and has been the Louisiana Operation Game Thief coordinator for LDWF since 2011.
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