December 8, 2021

It’s the nature of his job

Work of DEC conservation officer far from routine

Jacob DeRochie/contributing photographer

State Department of Environmental Conservation State Police officers Brett Armstrong, Mary Grose, Harry Chase and Ricardo Grisolini prepare for a deer decoy stakeout Dec. 1 in Georgetown, Madison County. The deer decoy followed complaints of people illegally taking deer from private property.

Ricardo Grisolini grew up in the outdoors, raising pheasants and bow hunting for deer. He puts that love of the outdoors into his job, every day.

Unlike a regular 9 to 5 job, his days aren’t scripted.

When he throws on his uniform and climbs in his cruiser he never knows what he is going to get into. Calls can range from an illegally shot deer to a structure fire, maybe even a domestic assault. He also covers environmental regulations like monitoring diesel exhausts or dumping pollutants into waterways.

But that’s the job of a state Department of Environmental Conservation State Police officer – commonly known as an environmental conservation officer.

“It fluctuates,” he said. “There is no standard.”

It’s not a job; it’s something he loves.

First day

On Dec. 1, Grisolini started his day at 10 a.m.

What should have been a day off began with dropping tickets off at court.

From there he likes to get out into the rural areas of the Madison <$>county. He travels back roads, places where hunters might gather. He sets a daily goal for himself – travel at least one road he hasn’t before.

Grisolini travels 150 to 200 miles a day.

Grisolini more stumbled into a career of fish, wildlife and environment protection than strode. He attended SUNY Cortland for physical education. “Once I went through my teaching curriculum I realized it’s not what I really wanted to do,” he said.

He went to work for the Special Olympics after college. In the interim he took the state police exam and environmental conservation officer exam.

“I’ve always had a desire for law enforcement and the outdoors,” he said. “And because of the fact my degree was in biology I met all of the education requirements for this job.”

The education requirements include a four-year degree with at least 18 credits of an environmental science.

He started with the environmental conservation police in 2004. For 3 1/2 years he was stationed downstate in New York City. He then went to Oneida County, returning to his home county of Madison last year.

His first day on the job was in Brooklyn. Grisolini was picked up at apartment and patrolled Greenpoint for environmental quality law infractions. “Such as idling diesels,” Grisolini said.

Next came the recreational saltwater fishing patrol. “There were infractions where they were basically breaking the creel limit and or undersized limit of a specific species of fish,” he said.

One thing about his time in the city he liked – the vast diversity of calls.

First encounter

Just after 11 a.m. on Dec. 1, he traveled a road that took him past his home and toward Hamilton.

Grisolini grew up in Georgetown and still lives on the family farm, which he now owns.

As a kid, Grisolini was introduced to the outdoors. His father was an avid outdoorsman who owned a fur-shipping business; Grisolini was inspired, but learned to do a lot on his own.

A local game warden, John Carpenter, introduced him to environmental law enforcement when Grisolini was 8. Carpenter had answered his father’s complaint of somebody illegally shooting pheasants on the property.

Grisolini was outside with his sister playing when they saw the shooter pull out a shotgun, take aim and shoot. “My father called 9-1-1 and they sent John over,” he said. “To make a long story short, it was my first encounter with a game warden.”

Grisolini has a passion for bow hunting and other recreation, stuff he can’t pursue while working. But the job has many valuable tasks. Some things however, are seasonal.

“Like winter, I really enjoy doing snowmobile patrol enforcement,” he said. “My true passion is the outdoor, fish and wildlife, aspect of the job.”

Every part of the job has its purpose.

Doing the right thing

At 11:30 a.m. Grisolini stopped along the roadside in Lebanon, Madison County. The hills of Lebanon, Hamilton and Brookfield are a favorite place to patrol.

“It’s a highly recreated area where people do a lot of outdoor stuff,” he said. “Obviously when you have a higher volume of recreators you also have a higher volume of potential violations.”

Grisolini pulled up to three hunters stopped along the road – two in a white pickup and the other standing next to it.

“They shot a buck on their property this morning,” Grisolini said.

The deer, which was wounded, had ran onto the hunters’ neighbor’s property. They were trying to get permission to go on the property to get the deer. It’s a call Grisolini frequently gets. “He’s doing the right thing trying to contact the property owner to see if he can go in and retrieve that animal,” Grisolini said.

The job comes with plenty of myths.

One Grisolini has heard is that the environmental conservation officers have more power than other police officers.

“That’s a misconception,” he said. “We don’t have more power, we’re all of the same statute as far as we are all sworn police officers of the state of New York.”

DEC conservation police have the same authority as other officers.”We have full state police authority,” Grisolini said. “I could write you a ticket for talking on your cell phone. I could pull you over. I’m a standard field sobriety test instructor.”

One thing that is different than regular police – search and seizure laws. If Grisolini sees a vehicle traveling down the road with a dead deer in the back, he can pull the car over and ask for the tags. “Because I regulate that resource I have that ability,” he said. “That doesn’t give me more power.”

Planning it out

A golden retriever ran across the secluded road in front of Grisolini in Madison just about 12:40 p.m. The education side of Grisolini’s job came into play.

He wanted to find the owners to let them know the dog could not be running around in areas inhabited by deer during the hunting season. It’s a violation.

The first home – where the dog was seen coming from – yielded no response. At the second house, a young man had no idea about the dog or who it belonged to. Other homes also yielded no answer.

Unable to catch the dog, Grisolini did the only thing he could – called the town animal control officer.

It’s not all road patrol for Grisolini, or any officer, for that matter.

Twice a month, Grisolini covers dispatch calls across the entire region – Region 7 based in Syracuse. He also spends a day doing regular office duty.

It’s also not just environmental calls.

The niche is environmental quality law – air quality and water quality – as well as fish and wildlife. “However, if I get a call right now and I’m the closest car to a domestic situation at a residence, because I’m a sworn police officer of the state of New York, I’m obligated to go there and respond to that,” he said.

The public’s safety always takes precedence in the calls. And safety for himself.

Backup for Grisolini isn’t two minutes away. “It’s going to take time,” he said. Expect 10 to 15 minutes before the closest car, from any police agency, arrives. In certain situations Grisolini has to plan ahead.

“Prior to me getting there, if I see four or five hunters and maybe I have some intel that a couple of the hunters are maybe a risk of physical harm I’m going to, prior to getting on the call, get on the radio,” he said.

To catch a poacher

The road trip was over by 1:30 p.m., Grisolini met with three other conservation officers and a dog – Chenango County officers Brett Armstrong and Mary Grose; fellow Madison County officer Harry Chase; and Phoenix, a German shepherd and Belgian malinois mix.

Grisolini spoke to the other officers outlining the objective of the deer decoy – catch people shooting from the road and taking deer off private property.

A complainant had called Grisolini earlier in the week and told him somebody was taking deer from private land. It’s a misdemeanor to discharge a firearm from a public highway; it’s another misdemeanor to have a loaded firearm in a vehicle; and it’s a third misdemeanor to shoot from a motor vehicle. Several violations would also be tagged on.

The group stopped at Grisolini’s Georgetown farm to plan the stakeout, just a few miles away.

Two chase cars were positioned at each end of the road to stop a shooter. Chase and Armstrong would sit at one of the road with Grose at the other.

“Our policy states if you do run the decoy, you have to have at least three people,” Grisolini said.

Officers use a robotic deer – a mechanical skeleton inside the shell of a taxidermy deer. The head shifts from side to side and the tail flicks with the use of a remote control.

From 2:30 p.m. to 5: 13 p.m. Grisolini sat out in the cold, only a handful of cars, trucks and even a school bus passed the decoy on the road. None stopped.

If any of the vehicles had stopped, Grisolini and Grose would have bet on the one car with two people in blaze orange in it. Armstrong was banking on the bus.

Grisolini didn’t see it as a waste of time. The complainant even stopped and told him he couldn’t see the decoy from the road. There were things to improve on.

Grisolini doesn’t see his job simply as protecting people, places and animals, it’s advocating.

“Whatever gets people out and recreating I am an advocate for it,” he said. “As long as it is done legally. As long as it is done ethically. As long as it is done safely. That is all I care about.”