Photo via NY Times
Officer's badge, check. Handcuffs, check. Semiautomatic pistol, check. Pollution sample collection kit, check. Wait, what? Yes, it might seem bizarre, but there's a real division of gun toting law enforcement officers who are out there to protect and serve—the environment. Their jobs are much like your average police officer, but they deal only with environmental crimes and investigations. And if you're illegally polluting, they will not hesitate to put you away.Okay, so that might be a little extreme—these eco police aren't out battling devious pollution barons or hauling in Captain Planet villains. No, according to the New York Times, they're responsible for ensuring that everyday people are obeying environmental laws.
Eco Police Officers – All in a Day's Work
A routine day might include issuing a misdemeanor summons for an auto body shop that's discharging antifreeze and other chemicals onto the sidewalk, or hauling off a crate of clams for sale to the public that's been left on the dirty ground, and could cause contamination. They make sure fish markets aren't selling fish that have been caught illegally (too small for catch limits, or endangered fish), and they run tiny sting operations on supermarkets that block people from bottle deposits.
In other words, these officers got the environment's back.
In New York, at least, residents can call 311 to alert the authorities to a host of problems, including environmental ones. The eco officers are often tipped off by these calls, and are then able to launch investigations or issue warnings to the offenders. In New York alone, they've issued thousands of summons and fines amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.
Eco Police Origins
While these officers may seem novel, and happen to fit in especially well with the modern green zeitgeist, they've actually been around for over 120 years. Created in 1880, the eco patrol division were originally known as "game protectors," and their duties revolved around protecting fish and wildlife. Over the years, their role expanded, and they're now a part of the State Department's Environmental Conservation division. The officers, with their distinct game-warden look (they wear that Smokey Bear ranger hat even when patrolling urban areas), are an increasingly common sight in cities.
As public awareness of environmental problems grows, the eco police will certainly have an even more prevalent, more important role in safeguarding civilians and ecosystems.
Unrepentant polluters, consider yourselves warned.