County enlarges jurisdiction of conservation officers

By John Butters, The JOURNAL


A 28E agreement between the Washington County Conservation Board and the Washington County Sheriff?s department will increase the jurisdictional authority of the board?s ranger/technicians.

Previous to the agreement, the law enforcement duties of Rangers Zach Rozmus and Jayse Horning were limited to properties owned or managed by the Conservation Board. And while they were considered peace officers, they were not authorized to make an arrest beyond conservation board property. ?They could make an arrest as a private citizen, but not as a law enforcement officer,? said Conservation Board Executive Director Steve Anderson.

The new agreement expands their statutory authority to issue citations and make arrests in all areas under Washington county?s jurisdiction. The officers have always worked closely with the sheriff?s department, calling for assistance and backup when necessary. But with 2,259 acres under the conservation board?s management, the rangers often find themselves working in remote parts of the county located far from emergency services.

Now, when the rangers witness criminal action in rural areas, they have the flexibility to take appropriate action, said Anderson. The expansion of their jurisdiction enables them to better serve county residents. ?This step is important for the safety of the public and the officers. We have a great relationship with the sheriff?s office and this is another way we can help them,? he said.

Anderson said that the sheriff?s department has always been a good partner in providing back-up services to the conservation officers. Now, the conservation officers can assist the sheriff?s department.

Horning and Rozmus have dual roles with the conservation board. As technicians, they are responsible for much of the maintenance work needed at the county?s parks. As peace officers, they have law enforcement responsibilities.

And though park rangers have always had policing powers, Anderson said, times have changed and there is a need for a higher level of law enforcement training. ?Now we have fully trained, academy-certified people on staff and that is an advantage for us,? he said.

Both Horning and Rozmus have completed training at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy at Camp Dodge in Des Moines. The 15-week course includes training in criminal law, making traffic stops, defensive tactics, drug recognition and coursework on the handling of those operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

Rozmus, who worked for five years as a deputy for the Washington County Sheriff?s office and has an associate degree in Criminal Justice, said the training includes development of communication skills. ?They teach you how to get control of a situation. You learn how to talk with people, to use mental Judo to disarm a conflict,? he said.

The job as a ranger/technician is a perfect fit for his experience. ?I always saw myself getting into conservation. Now an opportunity has presented itself,? Rozmus said.

Horning has always sought a career as a conservation officer. ?I worked for the board for three or four seasons as an intern,? he said.

Horning has an A.A. degree in Parks and Natural Resources and studied animal ecology at Iowa State.

?I?ve always been a hunter and a fisherman. I always wanted to do this. I didn?t expect to be in law enforcement, though,? he said.

?The only thing that has really changed is an expansion from outside the parks to the entire county. We can back up an officer or, if necessary, intervene if a situation did arise,? Rozmus said. ?Living in a rural county, nothing is going to be in the right place at the right time.?

The most common law enforcement duties of the rangers include dealing with littering, vandalism and game law violations. But they also confront problems such as underage drinking in the parks, drug use and public drunkenness.

To support the officers, the county has upgraded its equipment. A new pickup contains the computer hardware and software to keep the rangers linked to the sheriff?s department. It also allows the rangers to issue an electronic citation. The rangers also carry the same equipment as a sheriff?s deputy.

Anderson said he could see an increasing need for rangers to have expanded authority for peace keeping, but that his staff would not be seeking more enforcement duties.

?We have more than enough work to keep our staff busy at our county parks. We have just added the capability to assist the public if needed,? he said. ?I think our patrons will feel more secure with the added resources.?