U.S. Fish & Wildlife Changes Policy on Use of Armed Personnel After Complaints at Cramer Town Hall

A man speaks at a town hall hosted by Congressman Kevin Cramer to facilitate a discussion with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

At a recent town hall event a number of people stood to complain about being intimidated by armed federal agents who come to discuss conservation easements on their property.

Here’s a short video, sent out today in a press release from Congressman Kevin Cramer’s office, showing farmers and representatives of farming interests speaking about the issue at a September 2017 town hall with the Fish & Wildlife Service. They said it’s hard to deal with federal agents who are armed and wearing body armor to routine meetings about easements.

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The relationship between law enforcement and the public at large has been under much scrutiny in recent years. Typically we look at this issue from the perspective of militarized police patrolling urban environments, and in particular the race-based disparities in how some are treated by the cops, but this is an aspect of the problem many people don’t think about. Conservation easements are always a touchy thing with people who make a living from the land. Talking about those easements with a federal agent who looks like they’re on patrol in Fallujah circa 2004 can, understandably, feel like a fraught experience.

Apparently this town hall meeting got some results, however. A new policy guidance issued by Gregory J. Sheehan, Principal Deputy Director for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, states “[u]nless concerns for employee safety or implications that a violation [of WPAs] has taken place are present, Service law enforcement officers are not expected to make first contact with land owners.”

“I really appreciate the attention that Secretary Zinke and Director Sheehan have given to this issue, and for their new guidance that was issued. The federal government is often your worst neighbor, and we finally have an administration that represents the people rather than the bureaucracy,” Congressman Kevin Cramer is quoted as saying in a release from his office. “This is certainly a decent first step as modest as it is, it’s important we are going in the right direction. It’s also important we remain diligent and report things we see so we can be sure the FWS personnel in the field are carrying out this new policy.”

The arming of federal personnel has become something of a hot button issue in recent years. “Since FY 2006, 44 traditionally administrative agencies have spent over $71 million on items like body armor, riot helmets and shields, cannon launchers and police firearms and ammunition,” the Washington Times reported in 2016.

While there are certainly situations where it’s appropriate for federal personnel to be armed and protected, it’s safe to say that we may be going a bit overboard.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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