U.S. Water News Online
GLENVIEW, Ill. -- Environmental crimes -- midnight dumping of toxic waste into rivers or streams -- have often gone unnoticed until after the fact. It is then often too late to catch the perpetrators.
But a new program being launched by the Illinois State Law Enforcement Training Board aims to correct this problem by training police officers to recognize and investigate environmental crimes.
The Northeast Metropolitan Regional Training (NEMRT) division of the board has selected the National Registry of Environmental Professionals (NREP) to develop this pilot program, the first of its kind in the nation. Law enforcement officers completing the program will be certified by NREP as Environmental Enforcement Specialists. "By the end of 1997 there will be several thousand officers trained in environmental enforcement," said Alan Richard, a member and spokesman for NREP.
Richard explained that the pilot program will include officers throughout the state of Illinois, but once tested and fine-tuned, the program will expand into 13 other midwestern states. Eventually, he said, training in environmental crimes will probably be an established part of police training programs nationwide.
In the past, enforcement of environmental crimes -- including criminal sanctions -- has been left up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But the recent shift in focus from federal to state and local jurisdiction over such regulatory activities has created a need for additional means of enforcing environmental laws.
"This program is funded entirely by the local police departments sponsoring this training," said Richard. "It involves no additional tax monies in the form of either state or federal aid."
Environmental regulation is of little use if these regulations cannot be enforced, said Richard. At present, environmental violations often go undetected because of a lack of manpower. This program, he added, should be a major help to communities struggling with this problem.
Richard says officers will be trained to take a slightly different approach to their "environmental beat" than they would to a conventional neighborhood patrol. "It takes special training to be able to recognize problems of a hazardous nature -- an awareness of indicators peculiar to environmental violations," he said.
Officers will be trained to survey bodies of water more closely, for example, to patrol them at night, when "midnight dumpers" are often at work, and to look for typical indicators of these crimes -- a hose or pipe running into a lake, stream, or manhole; peculiar or unusual odors; or trucks that do not properly identify hazardous cargo or are carrying items not listed on their legally required "manifest list."
Environmental specialists will be on call for further investigation of any suspicious activities the police turn up, and of course, many of them will be involved in the training process, as well. This will mean more work for environmental consultants, said Richard, as local agencies, rather than the federal government, take responsibility for this work.
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