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Manslaughter Charge Dismissed Against Conservation Police Officer

Stanardsville, VA -- The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) would like to announce that the charge of voluntary manslaughter against Conservation Police Officer Robert O. Ham, III, has been dismissed. Greene County Circuit Court Judge Daniel R. Bouton dismissed the charge today.

Officer Ham, with the Law Enforcement Division of VDGIF, had been charged with voluntary manslaughter following a shooting incident that occurred in January when he was assisting deputies with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. Ham was in the Greene County Sheriff’s Office when an alert was sent out for an “endangered missing juvenile” female who may have been abducted by a juvenile male who was “possibly armed” and had “made threats to multiple individuals.” The alert included information describing the individuals, the vehicle, and their possible destination.

Officer Ham accompanied the deputies to a location along Route 33 at the entrance to the Woodridge subdivision where the suspect was believed to be headed. The suspect’s vehicle approached the intersection and was intercepted by the deputies’ vehicles. The conservation police officer was struck by the vehicle when the driver accelerated. The officer discharged his firearm fatally wounding the suspect.

The incident was investigated by the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation. An internal administrative investigation was conducted by VDGIF.

According to Colonel Mike Bise, chief of VDGIF’s Law Enforcement Division, “Our administrative investigation determined that our officer acted appropriately. It was an unfortunate and tragic event, but we have been confident the court would reach this decision.”

Virginia conservation police officers, previously called game wardens, have full police authority but focus on enforcing the Commonwealth’s wildlife and boating laws. Typically, one officer is assigned to work a county or city, but in some cases there may be more than one assigned to a jurisdiction depending on the needs of that community. Officers provide back up and assist each other in adjacent counties within their work area. Frequently, conservation police officers work with local law enforcement providing support for manhunts, search and rescue, and other enforcement efforts.

News Release

For Immediate Release
Colonel Mike Bise, Major Steve Pike, Major Dee Watts, 804-367-0171

"Game Warden" Name Changing to "Conservation Police Officer"

Richmond, VA — Effective July 1, 2007, Virginia's game wardens will have a new name. The sworn officers in the Law Enforcement Division of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) will be called "conservation police officers." The Virginia General Assembly approved the change at their recent session. The name change is intended to clarify the authority of these officers who have full police powers and statewide jurisdiction.

Game wardens have been serving in law enforcement in Virginia since 1903, when the Virginia General Assembly established a statewide system of game wardens to enforce wildlife laws. In fact, game wardens in Virginia have a history that predates the creation of VDGIF which wasn't established until 1916.

In today's more urban Virginia, game warden work often intersects with mainstream law enforcement. In the course of performing duties related to the agency mission — enforcing wildlife, fisheries and boating laws — game wardens are now dealing with situations requiring immediate police intervention, such as drivers under the influence, reckless drivers, drug and gang activities, homeland security issues and frequent assistance to other law enforcement agencies. VDGIF's law enforcement personnel patrol the Commonwealth every day. They are on the waters, in the woods, and on the roadways, encountering all the same public safety issues as other police officers do. According to Colonel Mike Bise, chief of the Law Enforcement Division, "When situations create a threat to public safety, the public expects the person with a gun and a badge to act." But, more and more frequently VDGIF officers find themselves dealing with people who do not understand their law enforcement authority.

In addition to being more suburban and urban, Virginia is more culturally diverse than ever before and the word "police" is almost universally recognized. Early last summer the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries approved using the word "police" in the markings of many of VDGIF's larger patrol boats. According to Bise, "The response from the public was great with noticeably more respect for what our officers do." Bise went on to say, "To the people we routinely interact with we will be game wardens for the next 25 years and we think that's great. This name change is so folks who don't know who we are will better understand our law enforcement role. It does not mean we are changing our mission focus."

Bise added, "We certainly appreciate the support of Delegate Rob Wittman, who was the patron of the bill, the General Assembly for their unanimous passage of the bill, and Governor Tim Kaine for his support of what is an important step for our officers in better serving the Commonwealth."

The name change from "game warden" to "conservation police officer" will involve changes to badges, uniform patches and patrol vehicle door decals. The modest costs of these changes are covered in the existing agency budget.

It is the mission of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to maintain optimum populations of all species to serve the needs of the Commonwealth; to provide opportunity for all to enjoy wildlife, inland fish, boating and related outdoor recreation; and to promote safety for persons and property in connection with these outdoor activities. For more information, visit the Department web site at www.dgif.virginia.gov.

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Photographs of the new badge available upon request.

               "To Protect and Conserve"
Protecting Virginia's wildlife resources and citizens since 1903
            Virginia Game Warden Facts:

Virginia Game Wardens are sworn law enforcement officers and have full police powers with statewide jurisdiction. They primarily protect Virginia’s wildlife and boating public from criminal behavior, but they also provide public safety, homeland security and disaster response to all Virginians.

Game Wardens are the second largest statewide uniformed police force, second only to the Virginia State Police. Game Wardens police remote areas, such as Virginia’s forests and waterways. They provide a law enforcement presence where other police agencies do not routinely patrol.

During the last three years, Game Wardens have issued an average of 9,776 summonses and 2,254 written warnings per year for wildlife, fish and boating violations. Even though DGIF receives no funding for general law enforcement, Game Wardens also make arrests incidental to their primary mission. Arrest data shows from 2001 thru 2006: 146 convicted felons in possession of a firearm, 251 reckless drivers, 660 illegal possession of controlled substances, 113 driving under the influence, 76 illegal possession of a concealed weapon, 666 littering, 419 general trespassing, 220 underage possession of alcohol, 158 reckless handling of a firearm, 218 drinking in a public place and 307 arrests and 54 written warnings for the illegal operation of all-terrain vehicles (ATV) under the motor vehicle code. Game Wardens receive many requests from landowners and other law enforcement agencies for assistance with illegal ATV operation on private and public property. All Game Wardens are trained in the operation of ATVs and DGIF has at least one patrol ATV in each district.

Game Wardens are highly trained and specially equipped. They receive specialized training in fugitive tracking. Each officer is issued a marked four-wheel drive patrol vehicle, night vision optics and military rifle. They use large and small patrol boats. The Department alsohas teams of trained divers.

Virginia Game Wardens and over 800 DGIF volunteer instructors are specially trained to teach hunter safety education to approximately 13,000 students annually. Since Hunter Education became mandatory for most young hunters in 1988, the number of hunting-related shooting incidents has decreased by more than 50%. Fatalities have decreased by an even greater percentage, and last year had the lowest number ever recorded.

During the last 5 years Game Warden’s have reported 254 job related injuries resulting in $2,213,714.24 in workers compensation claims. These statistics show that the duties of a Virginia Game Warden are physically demanding and often dangerous.

September 2005 to October 2006 the law enforcement communications center received 13,545 calls. During the same period Game Wardens responded to 179 boating/drowning accidents of which 16 were fatal boating accidents, 60 hunting accidents of which 3 were fatal, 393 mutual aid responses such as domestic disputes, vehicle accidents, and search and rescue operations. Wardens conducted 256 traffic stops and responded to 627 reported trespassing complaints.

On August 21, 2006, several Game Wardens trained in tactical man tracking
assisted in the search for a 21-year-old fugitive inmate suspected of shooting a security guard and killing a sheriff’s deputy in the Blacksburg area. The suspect had fled into a wooded area near the Virginia Tech campus. The suspect was apprehended 150-yards from the Game Warden

tracking team. DGIF is in the process of training all Game Wardens in Tactical Tracking. This is a week-long training event. DGIF also provided this training to Virginia State Police Tactical Teams and has trained ATF agents and US Fish and Wildlife Service officers.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Game Wardens were part of a relief team that provided law enforcement services on the coast of Mississippi. Game Wardens worked in Harrison and Hancock Counties, some of the hardest hit areas, assisting local law enforcement. During this period, Game Wardens patrolled for looters, conducted check points, provided back up to local law enforcement, responded to motor vehicle accidents, conducted drug and driving under the influence interdiction, responded to domestic violence calls, conducted searches for the bodies of hurricane victims and assisted with motor vehicle enforcement.

In September 2003, Game Wardens assisted local authorities with response to the extensive damage left in the wake of Hurricane Isabel. Using their issued patrol boats and four-wheel drive vehicles, Game Wardens conducted search and rescue missions in flooded areas, located and handled hazardous materials, recovered property, assisted citizens and assisted local law enforcement with an increased police presence.

The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries conducts their own Basic Law Enforcement Training Academy in Richmond, VA. This basic training not only exceeds the standards set Department of Criminal Justice Services, but it also provides training in the many non-traditional law enforcement functions expected of Virginia Game Wardens. This academy is a full-service academy, providing basic training as well as in-service training to Game Wardens and other law enforcement officers in Virginia. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Training Academy has extended invitations to other Natural Resource Law Enforcement Agencies in Virginia, such as the VA Marine Resources Commission and the Department of Conservation and Recreation to attend training.

During a recent investigation into a hunting related fatality in southwest Virginia, Game Wardens were able to secure charges against the suspected shooter through a Grand Juryfor second-degree murder, reckless handling of a firearm, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, use of a firearm in commission of a felony and possession of a schedule II


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