2009-12-24 / Outdoors

DNR officers trained in tactical tracking

The Department of Natural Resources recently trained a group of its conservation officers in tactical tracking techniques that will better equip them to locate lost hunters, children or other outdoor recreation enthusiasts as well as those fleeing from law enforcement.

According to DNR Law Enforcement Chief Gary Hagler, the training has already paid off, with officers utilizing their newly acquired tracking skills in the field to locate a lost hunter, apprehend fleeing suspects and find evidence.

“Conservation officers - often working alone in remote areas - are called upon to search for people in all kinds of situations, weather conditions and landscapes. This training gives them additional tools to help rescue someone who’s lost in the woods or track someone who might pose a danger to others,” said Hagler. “It really enhances our efforts to keep people safe as they enjoy Michigan’s great outdoors, and we hope to significantly expand the training in the future.”

Last spring, three DNR conservation officers participated in a two-week tactical tracking course, provided by Tactical Tracking Operations School, LLC, at Fort Custer Recreation Area near Battle Creek. The three officers then served as assistant trainers for a DNR-hosted, one-week tracking course, funded by a Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards grant. With that course, the DNR was able to train 22 of its conservation officers and two officers from other agencies.

The training covered topics such as dynamics of a footprint, camouflage and concealment, action indicators, lost spoor procedures, team tracking formations and tactics, encounter actions and assessing the age of tracks.

DNR conservation officers recently have conducted several searches using skills gained through the training course.

“…We had three suspects flee from a shining and shooting from a vehicle. We were able to pick up their track and were 300 yards into the track when they were located crossing the road ahead of us and apprehended,” said Sgt. Joe Kellam. “I have no doubt that we were on their track and would have caught up to them when they stopped running. The fundamentals worked as advertised, and this training has been invaluable to us.”

In October, Kellam and another officer were called out to assist in the search for a lost hunter in the Hillsdale County’s Lost Nations Game Area. They used their recently-acquired tactical tracking skills to locate the lost hunter, who was approximately one mile into the game area and 300 yards off the trail. The lost subject was tired and weary, but otherwise not injured.

Another officer drew upon his training the day after an inmate from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department escaped in September. The officer was able to pick up a track several miles away from the escape location, and from there local agencies focused their search and found the suspect close by in a cabin.

In July, shortly after he completed the tactical training, Conservation Officer Jeff Goss assisted in capturing a shooting suspect who had fled into the woods in Calhoun County. The K-9 team lost the track, and Goss used what he had learned in the course to pick up a track in a different area and locate the suspect hiding in the brush.

“Since attending this course, I find myself constantly encountering scenarios where tactical tracking skills can either assist or speed up the outcome of that particular scenario,” said Goss. “Not only are conservation officers routinely asked to assist other agencies, our resources are often used in search and rescue operations, as well as tracking individuals in the field as we perform our daily duties.”

Hagler added that many other law enforcement agencies request the DNR’s assistance, due in part to conservation officers’ wide range of patrol vehicles, such as four-wheel-drive trucks, ATVs, dirt bikes, canoes, kayaks, snowmobiles, personal watercraft, inland boats and Great Lakes vessels. Other equipment available to assist DNR officers in searches includes handheld GPS units, night vision, spotting scopes and thermal imaging units.

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