In mid-June of this year former Natural Resources and Northern Development Minister Greg Nesbitt and Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced a new 24-7 centralized dispatch service for Manitoba Conservation Officers to enhance officer safety in the field and strengthen environmental enforcement across the province.

At that time the provincial government had signed a $1.2-million contract with the Brandon Public-Safety Communication Centre, operated by the City of Brandon, to provide 24-7 dispatch for the Manitoba Conservation Officer Service.

That dispatch service went live last Thursday from the Brandon 911 centre, thus linking our Manitoba COs with all the Emergency Services entities across the province.

Chief Conservation Officer for the Province of Manitoba, Earl Simmons, has been with Manitoba Conservation for close to 40 years.  He says having Manitoba's COs in direct communication with other policing forces has been a great accomplishment in his 40 years in service.

"It's exciting!  It will be 40 years in May for me when I started with the Department and it was probably one of the greatest achievements that we've ever had," shares Chief Simmons.

When fully staffed Manitoba Conservation has close to a hundred field officers, and during the summer months an additional 94 seasonal patrol officers who work mostly in provincial parks across Manitoba.

Up until last Thursday, they had no way to check with other policing and EMS services.  About 5 years ago COs had an upgraded radio system that connected them to a dispatch, but it had its limitations.

However, on Thursday they finally went live for a centralized dispatch and check in communications centre with 911.

"This is for our officers to check in with them to know if they're okay," explains Simmons. "And depending on the type of work they're doing the check-ins might be longer, and if it's a high-risk situation the check ins might be a shorter time period." 

"Now they can call for backup, or other agencies whether they need fire, police, EMS, or a tow truck.  They can also check if people have a valid driver's license, or if they're wanted, if the vehicle is registered or if its stolen, if a gun is registered or if its stolen, those types of things.  So, we're now able to do all that, utilizing the communications centre."

Simmons says eventually this could incorporate the 1-800 Turn in Poachers line (TIPS) but, initially this 911 communications dispatch is about facilitating the officers in the field; workplace health and safety for their officers to ensure that they have somebody they can check in with and get the information they need or get help if they need it.

"You can appreciate officers work from the US border all the way up to Nunavut and in a lot of remote areas often by themselves," adds Chief Simmons. "So, it's nice to have somebody on the other end of the radio for them to check in with."

Conservation Officers are often in a high-risk situation when dealing with trespassers, illegal hunting, dangerous night hunting situations or dealing with injured animals. Sometimes they have a partner with them, or they're part of an organized effort, or an organized patrol with a helicopter. 

"But often they're by themselves or with one other officer," says Simmons, "so this will allow them to let somebody know where they are, what vehicle they stopped, and before they walk up to the vehicle, they can now have critical information on the vehicle and the potential occupants of that vehicle, just to make they're job safer."

Anyone with information on illegal activity is asked to call a local Natural Resources and Northern Development office or the Turn in Poachers (TIP) line at 1-800-782-0076.

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