Conservation officers head out for physical training

Jodi Schellenberg
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Conservation officers from around Saskatchewan gathered in Prince Albert to refresh their skills through a recertification program this week.

“We go through three and a half days of training that conservation officers go through,” said Rich Hildebrand, a conservation officer with the compliance and education unit in Prince Albert. “It is our annual recertification refreshers that our officers are required to do.”

On Wednesday, the group -- who were not made available to reporters -- was working on defensive tactics at one location and sidearm training at the gun range.

“A lot of that, we are dealing with senior officers so they are not getting the basic course -- they have already had that -- so this is just an annual recertification that our officers are required to do here in the province,” Hildebrand said.

“It is a requirement and it is basically gives them a confidence that they can deal with the situations that they deal with out in the field on occasion,” he added. “It is not an everyday occurrence, so it is not something we use every day, but just something to be ready in the event of that.”

He explained the conservation officers are often working in remote areas by themselves, so they need to be prepared to deal with any situations that come their way.

“Our officers are always dealing with people with firearms or knives and they may be dealing with intoxicated people,” Hildebrand said. “When they get into a situation, some people decide they are not going to co-operate with law enforcement and so then our officers have to deal with whatever comes to play.

“Some of it could just be not being compliant or (resisting) the direction that is being given to them,” he added. “There is the odd thing where an event happens that they are looking to do grievous bodily harm to an officer, so they need to be able to deal with that.”

Some of the training elements are verbal judo and self-defense tactics. They are also starting to train the officers in traffic control.

“About a year ago, we lost an officer in an accident south of Saskatoon,” Hildebrand said of the traffic control elements. “Those are some of the things we need to do and we introduce different portions every year regarding the training, just to make it fresh and keep officers up to par and give them the tools to deal with while they are out in the field.”

In the field, conservation officer carry a baton, handcuffs, OCS spray (commonly known as pepper spray) and a sidearm, so training at the gun range is required.

“They are doing some refreshing on some of the tactical shooting, so they are doing on the range, different distances from the actual target,” Hildebrand said.

Some of the drills involved kneeling barricades, standing barricades and prone shooting. “That is all the different positions that an officer may encounter if they were in a situation where the firearms are being discharged or required for the situation that they were in -- basically in a grievous bodily harm or death situation,” he said. “We fortunately haven’t had any officers that have been in situations where they have had to be discharging their firearms.

“We have had situations where officers have been threatened,” he added. “In the last year, we had one where an officer was threatened with an axe, so they had to draw their sidearm but it was de-escalated (before he had to discharge). It is not something that happens on a regular basis at all, but officers are training to be refreshed and recertified.”

Conservation officers started carrying firearms in the 1990s, Hildebrand said.

“It was just because of the nature of work that officers were dealing with and the confrontations that we have had over the last number of years,” he said.

Firearms might also come in handy when up against violent wildlife.

“We have had a number of officers that have been attacked by bears, but nobody was ever injured in those situations,” Hildebrand said. “It does happen, so it is something that is in the nature of our work.”

New officers are required to go through a wildlife/human conflict course and given the tools on how to handle those kinds of situations, Hildebrand said. This helps when there is wildlife in urban areas and using darts to immobilize an animal.

New officers go through basic training and once they are hired on will do more training.

“At this time as well, we have our Western Conservation Law Enforcement Academy, which determines when a new officer is hired on,” Hildebrand said. “They go to a 16-week course that is being held out of Hinton.”

In that course, which the western provinces are involved with, they learn other skills, such as swift water rescue, boat courses, emergency vehicle courses and wildlife conflict.

There are 134 permanent and 52 seasonal conservation officers in Saskatchewan. The seasonal officers go through training as well, but do not carry a sidearm. They train more in verbal judo and self-defense tactics.

“You are dealing with people with firearms with hunting and things like that all the time,” Hildebrand said. “Ninety-nine per cent of the people, there are no issues, but you need to be prepared for what (could) happen.”

Geographic location: Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Hinton Saskatchewan

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