In Harm's Way
that call is going to come."
Conservation agents receive 1,000 hours of training before they are certified. The minimum for a Missouri peace officer is 470 hours. Only the Highway Patrol and Water Patrol receive as much training. Much of conservation agent training involves role playing. "We put them through the paces in controlled situations to get them used to responding to emergencies," says Larry Yamnitz, director of the agent training academy.
After graduation, agents have to attend an additional 40 hours of training each year in human behavior, defensive tactics and firearms. In addition, agents review reports of dangerous situations other agents have encountered so that they can learn through an "If that happens to me, what should I do?" exercise.
Although they serve as goodwill ambassadors, conservation agents are first and foremost law enforcement officers. As certified peace officers, they can't back way from incidents, even when death or serious injury becomes a real possibility.
Their beats include untrammeled areas, remote locations that some people feel are beyond the pale of social constraints. They frequently come into contact with people who are armed.
For example, Conservation Agent Jason M. Dickey, responding to a report of gunshots being fired on a LaClede County Road, encountered a man standing in a dry creek bed upstream of the low water bridge. The man had a large liqueur bottle in one hand and an automatic pistol in the other.
"He was a big man with long gray yellowish hair, shorts and no shirt on," Dickey recalled. "He had this big bottle of bright green liqueur--about two-thirds gone--in his hand. You could tell he was intoxicated."
Dickey--in uniform--exited his truck and identified himself. He told the man to put the gun down. The man wouldn't. Dickey recognized the pistol as a Smith and Wesson 9 mm automatic. He could clearly see that the slide was forward and the hammer was cocked. Two other men, apparently unarmed, stood nearby.
"You get fired up," Dickey said, "and lots of things go through your mind as your training clicks in. I didn't know if he was on meth or drugs. I knew he was intoxicated and had fired several rounds. He still has his gun and he has ignored a verbal command from a uniformed officer. I'm also concerned about innocent bystanders. I know that I have to do what I can to get him to put the gun down."
Dickey drew his service revolver