Maine warden secret policing

Earlier this week, the Maine Sunday Telegram produced a package of stories about a two-year undercover investigation undertaken by the Maine Warden Service. The series raises questions concerning the amount of resources expended by the service to catch low-level violators and concerns for the heavy-handed tactics used in the small village of Allagash, in far Northern Maine.

Of more concern than this one particular incident, however, is the Warden Service response to the Telegram’s questions.

Despite repeated attempts to obtain copies of Warden Service policies governing undercover operations and conduct standards for individual officers, the state refused to release any information. Those policies are “secret,” the service argued.

Sworn officers of any law enforcement agency in Maine, including game wardens, have the power to summons and arrest. If the situation warrants, they also have the power to use deadly force to protect themselves and others. All enforcement agencies have expected standards of conduct, and officers are trained to exercise those standards. When the very nature of those policies is kept secret, officials are, in effect, saying the public has no right to consider whether wardens operate appropriately within the dictates of the standards and accepted practices.

Stonewalling about those standards and the actions taken by the wardens causes the public to lose confidence in the Warden Service.

The administration, members of Maine’s legislature and those who champion the cause of more responsive government need to pressure the Warden Service to release its conduct standards and answer questions about the conduct of its officers.

Few in number, Maine game wardens are the state’s thin, green line against wildlife violations. The resources and environment they protect are an integral part of our culture and traditions. The service needs to be viewed as part of “us.” Conduct that could result in the public seeing wardens as “them” would be a serious mistake.

The hardworking men and women of the Warden Service do not deserve any tarnishing of their image by the short-sighted, self-serving politics of their superiors.

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