LBFC Report on Merging Law Enforcement not Practical

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Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today said that while a legislative report calls the merging of the law enforcement units of three separate agencies into one "feasible," the same report demonstrates that the concept is not "practical" or "suitable."

Today, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) issued its report required by House Resolution 222, which called for a feasibility study of transferring the law enforcement functions of both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to a new Bureau of Law Enforcement within the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

"Conducting a feasibility study is not always easy, as almost anything is 'feasible,' meaning possible," said Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director in his written response to the report. "This is quite different to being 'practical,' does it make sense to do it; or 'suitable,' does it solve the problem, in this case funding.

"The report states it is possible to combine the law enforcement functions of the three agencies, but in our estimation, the report also clearly indicates the proposal is neither practical nor suitable.

"We believe the additional cost of $5.8 million is a very conservative estimate and does not take into account other areas clearly identified by the LBFC, such as information technology costs, radio costs, relocation costs and other equipment costs. There also will be additional costs for the Game Commission to continue to do the non-law enforcement work currently being accomplished by Wildlife Conservation Officers. Since all WCOs will be transferred, the cost of personnel and equipment to continue that work would affect any possible savings to the Game Commission."

Ross noted that the LBFC misinterpreted the fact that officers from each of the three agencies have overlapping authority.

"It is more supplemental than overlapping," Ross said. "Since each agency has a primary responsibility, the other agencies do not see the enforcement of the other agencies code as their primary responsibility.

"Also, the report states that having three separate groups of conservation officers is inherently inefficient. However, this is no more inherently inefficient than having a State Police, County Sheriff and municipal police department; each has separate and distinct responsibilities and jurisdictions."

In October, the Board of Game Commissioners unanimously approved a statement opposing any merger of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, or portion of the agency, with either the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission or the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.