They are, literally, signs of the world we live in.
If you’ve been in a stadium, an airport or even in a park lately, you’ve probably seen those signs the Department of Homeland Security has put out encouraging people to be aware of their surroundings and talk to law enforcement about anything suspicious.
“If you see something, say something,” they read.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is asking for similar help. It’s launched “Operation Game Thief,” an effort aimed at stopping poaching with the public’s help.
“It’s a program we’re hoping will give the public some recognition of the wildlife law enforcement efforts that our officers are doing out there every day, and also bring attention to the negative effect poaching has on our wildlife populations, both to our hunting and non-hunting public,” said Tom Grohol, director of the commission’s bureau of wildlife protection.
Basically, the program allows people to report poaching incidents one of two ways, via a toll-free phone number (1-888-PGC-8001) or online (at www.pgc.state.pa.us). They’ll be asked to provide details on things like crime itself, the date, time and location where it occurred and descriptions of the poacher and his vehicle.
That might sound familiar. Starting in 1996, the commission operated the Turn In a Poacher, or TIP, program.
It had issues, though, Grohol said.
TIP calls went to an answering machine, which meant there was a sometimes-too-long lag in getting information to wildlife conservation officers in the field, he said. It offered no way to get contact information for callers in case officers had follow-up questions, he added, and there was no way to track whether calls were leading to prosecutions.
The hope is Operation Game Thief will solve those problems and ultimately be more successful.
Grohol said calls and online reports will be immediately forwarded to all six regional commission offices. Dispatchers will then direct them on to the appropriate officer.
That’s the program’s biggest advantage, he said.
“That greatly increases the information getting into the hands of our officers, where it needs to be,” Grohol said.
The system will log calls so the success of prosecuting them can be better determined, and will collect information on the person reporting a crime. They can still remain anonymous if they choose, he explained, but officers will be able to communicate privately with them.
Those who provide tips will, in cases, be eligible for up to $250 in rewards.
Operation Game Thief will also hopefully prove to be more user friendly, Grohol said.
“We’re hoping this provides a little clearer instructions for the public, and makes it a little easier to understand, and encourages them a little bit more to participate,” Grohol said.
Grohol said 42 states and Canadian provinces are participating in the program. Pennsylvania’s entry into the effort makes it eligible to apply for grants from International Wildlife Crimestoppers Association, a non-profit, anti-poaching group.
The commission hopes to get to pay for a trailer that can be taken to county fairs and other events. It will showcase a “wall of shame” featuring trophy game animals and threatened and endangered species taken by poachers, he said.