(NEWS10) — The Office of New York’s Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro released the results of an investigation into the Department of Environmental Conservation. The investigation concluded that forest rangers are often unsupervised and unaccountable.
The report, “Investigation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Forest Protection,” is available online. Tagliafierro said that while the job of a forest ranger demands accountability, “My office found instead systemic failures including unsupervised and undisciplined rangers conducting personal business on the taxpayers’ dime.”
Forest rangers are police officers who enforce laws, issue tickets, investigate private businesses, and conduct search and rescue operations. The investigation into the Division of Forest Protection found that a pattern of supervisory shortcomings enabled widespread misconduct like inappropriate sexual encounters, theft of state property for private business, and over-the-top commutes for a supervisory role.
Tagliafierro acknowledged that the DEC has already reformed policies in an effort to prevent such behaviors in the future. “The Division has since enacted significant reforms to ensure that those tasked with protecting our forests are continually held accountable for performing that role with integrity,” she said.
The DEC released a statement in response to the report:
DEC has no tolerance for inappropriate behavior, misappropriation of resources, or disregarding the policies in place to ensure the accountability of our professional staff and our duty to protect public resources. To address the issues raised in the report, DEC commenced a formal disciplinary proceeding on June 26, 2020. DEC is currently closely reviewing the report.
Earlier this year, DEC hired a new Deputy Commissioner for Public Protection and an Acting Director of the Division of Forest Protection charged with identifying and addressing any current practices that could be contrary to DEC’s stringent professional expectations and requirements. DEC will take any and all appropriate actions upon the completion of our review of the report.NYS DEC
The investigation launched in July 2019, with particular attention paid to a specific forest ranger. Tagliafierro documented a laundry list of alleged misconduct on the ranger’s part:
- At least two inappropriate sexual encounters while on duty
- Working for Boonville police in Oneida County during DEC working hours
- Stealing DEC gym equipment for use in his private-sector, commercial gym
- Failure to file bi-weekly paperwork, timesheets, and annual arrest and ticketing reports
- Reporting a bogus home address and ignoring residency requirements to commute for 170 miles both ways
The investigation found the ranger’s misconduct was enabled by poor supervision. Rangers reported no direct meetings with supervisors for weeks, with supervisors not addressing noncompliance. Tagliafierro also said the residency policy disregarded by consenting supervisors, so officers would be inconsistently available to respond to emergencies. The report ends with recommendations to revise policies on meetings with supervisors, residency, and inventory.
Take a look at the report below: