Aside from an $80 per day stipend, a uniform and some other equipment, most of the start-up costs for a new deputy are out-of-pocket. Mark Rutkowski, who serves as the law enforcement supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northeast Region, said that cost could hit $1,000 after a deputy purchases items such as a firearm, holster and radio. Coupled with intense and time-consuming training that could take two years, it requires a high level of commitment from someone interested in becoming a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer.
So what can be done to make it easier for those who are interested?
“Anything to defray the cost for these people to get up and running,” Rutkowski said. “Save some of their out-of-pocket expense.”
Six months ago, the PGC Board of Commissioners increased the deputy stipend from $65 to $80 per day, and Jay Delaney, who represents the Northeast Region on the board, suggested more could be done.
“Increasing the stipend was a start and we’re looking into providing our deputies with body armor,” he said. “And there’s still room for improvement after that.”
Delaney said the decline in the deputy force — a peak of 1,200 in the 1970s to 363 today, is similar to the challenges faced by volunteer fire and ambulance departments. People just don’t have the time to commit to the job, he said.
“With all the training that’s necessary for this, it’s hard to get a dedicated person,” Delaney said, adding that the training requirements can’t be reduced. “We don’t want to put a deputy out there who isn’t well-versed.”
While there is no guarantee that a deputy will be promoted to a full-time WCO, Delaney said it is another area where a change could make the job more appealing. Right now, Delaney said, deputies are considered part-time volunteers. Because they go through extensive training and gain years of experience working in the field, those attributes should be considered.
“Right now if you’re a veteran you get 10 points added to the civil service test. Why can’t we give our deputies additional points based on their service?” Delaney said. “Deputies are extremely valuable to the agency and we can always do more.”