“We’re here for our community.
We’re here to keep people safe.
We’re here to protect our resources.”
— Officer Casey Thomas, CDFW
CALWOF is raising awareness around the vital services that California Wildlife Officers and their canine partners provide to the beautiful State of California and its citizens. We had the wonderful opportunity to interview one of our very own Game Warden Officers, Officer Casey Thomas about her experience as a Game Warden. Officer Thomas is a mother and comes from multiple generations of officers that have inspired her to serve her community. Check out the highlights of our interview!
What inspired you to follow this career path?
Officer Thomas “The people in my life who served as law enforcement officers before me, who made an impactful difference in their roles and in the communities they served. My grandfather was a game warden for the state of California. My mother was a game warden (his daughter), she retired as a lieutenant. My father served as a police officer at Hanford Police Department and then later at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office as a D.A. investigator and worked on the gang task force. Nancy Foley with CDFW who retired as chief of patrol. They all selflessly defended the missions in which they believed. I grew up seeing the differences they made in people’s lives for the better. They were all fair and kind and aggressive in the pursuit of justice.”
What would you say is the most memorable day you’ve had on the job?
Officer Thomas “There’s so many, it’s hard to just pick one. In my position, we have so many high intensity, high speed, low drag operations that they just kind of become a blur so it’s hard to pick just one. I truly enjoy watching the successes of my fellow officers. It’s rewarding to work with individuals who share the same desire to be the best versions of oneself and have a great work ethic. The day, or really, days, that represent that most memorable moment would probably be the time I received a phone call from an officer from an allied agency one evening about a suspect I had been investigating for operating an illegal cannabis operation, who was possibly moving his illegal product to an unknown location under the cover of darkness to avoid being detected by law enforcement. It took me and three of my partners about one minute to decide, “yeah, let’s jump back in our uniforms and let’s go back out there tonight.” “This should be fun.” We set up a surveillance in the ag fields at night, far enough away where we couldn’t be seen. Under the glow of the lights, we could see U-Haul trucks being moved behind the fence of the operation and we watched two U-Hauls leave the property with what we suspected to be full of illegal cannabis. We followed them and interdicted them right as they were heading into the gates of the location where they were hiding all the product. We seized both the U-Haul trucks that night, which were full of illegal cannabis. We all got home at the wee hours of the morning. At some point, I slept for about an hour, got a cup of coffee, wrote a search warrant for the property they left in the trucks and the property they were taking the cannabis. The warrant was executed that following day. We seized over seventeen thousand pounds of illegal processed cannabis and almost fifty-two thousand illegal plants slated for the illicit market. The operation ended up spreading over three days from the night we jumped in our trucks to the last load of cannabis destroyed and the case settled in our favor for $1.2 million dollars.”
Calwof Wow. That’s a big deal!
Officer Thomas “We were giving out some high fives for sure.”
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your position as a wildlife officer?
Officer Thomas “So this is a hard one, and actually the answer is easy, it’s just difficult to put into words. I chose this profession to help others, to serve my community and to enrich the lives of others because I care. For whatever reason, it seems only one side of the story is being told in today’s world. Because of the bad actions of a few, we, law enforcement officers, are being painted with such a broad brush. The hyper vigilance, while having it is important as a law enforcement officer; the level it’s at right now is absolutely exhausting. I’m not sure if the person approaching me while I’m filling up my truck at the gas station wants to hurt me or ask me where the best pig hunting spot is. Nobody wants a bad cop around, especially good cops. In the eight and a half years I’ve been a law enforcement officer working for two different agencies, I’ve never personally witnessed an unjustified use of force. I’ve served probably over one hundred search warrants where the likelihood of using force is much higher than your average contact. And it’s just not tolerated. I know for a fact that the officers I work with would intercede if they witnessed anything like that happening. Everyone I work with has their heart in the same place that I do, which is we’re here for you. We’re here for our community. We’re here to keep people safe. We’re here to protect our resources. It’s hard to put the uniform on right now and go to work and know that there are people out there that hate us, that want to hurt us, for us being selfless servants. I watch my little girl’s face light up when I put on all my gear to go to work and she asks, “Mom, are you going to go catch the bad guys?” I said, “I’m going to try, baby.” And then she says, “I want to go!” She’s three. I cannot express the feeling I have when I see that little twinkle in her eye like I had when my parents put on their uniforms before a shift. As a mother, it’s terrifying. As much as I believe this is the most honorable profession to be in, I do not want my little girl walking around with a target on her back just for doing what she believes in. But I’ll always encourage her to be true to herself. And if this is where her heart takes her, I can’t tell her “no.” They say history has a way of repeating itself. So far in this family, it’s three generations deep.”
What would you say is one interesting thing about the job as a wildlife officer that you wish all Californians knew?
Officer Thomas “I wish they knew how diverse our law enforcement division is. We have so many specialized teams that do incredible work. We have undercover officers. We have wildlife trafficking units. We have canine teams. We have cannabis enforcement. We have our air operations division and so much more. So many people are confused when they ask me, “Hey, are you game warden?” And, “what do you do all day?” I tell them, I’m a cannabis enforcement officer. They ask, “Why? You’re a game warden.” I really enjoy educating the public on how damaging the illegal cannabis cultivation can be to our environment and our water resources and our wildlife. I personally have nothing against the plant, but I do have a pretty strong justice meter in my heart, and I want to see those farmers who are doing it right become successful and not be undermined by the illicit market. The illicit market competes with them and puts them out of business. In any business, not just cannabis. And when people say, “who cares? It’s legal now.” Well, they aren’t looking at the wider scope of the trickle down effect of how it’s putting good people out of business and how illegal cultivators are carelessly and negligently damaging the environment. Toxic chemicals leach into the soil and our water resources. It kills life from something as small as an insect to as big as a black bear. Waterways are being diverted, obstructed or substantially altered. They’re not only harming the wildlife and the wildlife’s habitat, but they’re taking away from future generations. From our grandchildren who deserve to recreate, whether they are consumptive or non-consumptive users. If they just like to birdwatch, or hike, or if they like to hunt… We want them to be able to enjoy it the way it is for us. And a lot of these resources are dwindling, a lot of things are changing; with climate change and everything else. I want my babies to experience the excitement and beauty nature has to offer. I want my grandchildren to be able to go out with their grandpa and hunt if they want. Explaining it to people in this way really opens their eyes, and most responses I get are, “oh, my gosh, I never realized that it could have that effect, or that it could be that damaging, or that it could reach generations that far away just by damaging a certain aspect of the environment.”
If you could sum up what it is to be a game warden in one sentence, what would it be?
Officer Thomas “You’ve got to have your heart in the right place and know that the resources you serve and protect are valuable and can be lost before we know it.”
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your profession?
Officer Thomas “I think for me personally, the most rewarding aspect of my position is watching our team grow and develop into such a strong unit with every new case and every new warrant we serve and every new “Ah-Ha” moment we get. It seems like every officer has their specialty. Someone is a wizard at all things electronics, (that’s not me HA), someone is great at knowing really off the wall codes or laws that apply to some unusual situations that we get into. Someone has connections all over the place with different agencies. Someone knows every cannabis law known to man, and on and on. We as a team have developed great relationships with the different agencies we work with, and we have become such a well-oiled machine. We all take pride in what we do, and I think it shows. It kind of feels like that cartoon, Captain Planet, where all the elements get together, you know? We all come together from multiple different counties to work on a case. It kind of feels like here comes the “A Team” to take care of business. It’s pretty fun, that’s what I enjoy the most.”
I want you to answer all three of these questions in one take: 1. How long have you and your partner been together? What is their trained specialty and how does your partner make your job easier on a daily basis?
Officer Thomas [00:15:10] “Canna and I have been together for two years. She is trained in apprehension, handler protection, detection of narcotics, firearms, wildlife, and human tracking. I wouldn’t say she makes my job easier. In fact, having a canine partner is a lot of work if you want to continually prove yourselves as an effective team. However, she does make my job a lot safer not only for me, but for the team and for the public. She is absolutely, without a doubt, a life preserving tool. There’s so much misinformation about Police Canines. I’ve seen articles talk about them and deem them as “trained attack dogs” trying to devalue their worth. When all other non-lethal force options are exhausted, or, for whatever reason, they don’t work in a situation, a canine is such a highly valuable and highly capable tool. Utilizing a canine to control a situation has on numerous occasions not only saved officers and the public’s lives, but they’ve saved the lives of the offenders they apprehend who may create a lethal force situation that the canine was able to neutralize without having to use lethal force. I’ve deployed Canna to locate a weapon used in a homicide which was found with her help. She has detected narcotics and firearms in homes which were accessible to children. She has also tracked suspects through the woods. With her presence alone, she’s convinced offenders it’s better to surrender than flee and has made my job so much safer because of it.” [Dog Licks Her Face]
Is there anything else that you want to share about your experience or other things that you want people to know or just be aware of?
Officer Thomas “I would just love to end with: Be a kind human. Try to make the world a better place, if we all work to do that together, we can achieve the goals I think a lot of people really wish we could get to right now. It all comes from having a good heart and being a good person.”
Officer Thomas, tell us about the fundraiser the Calwof is having for K-9 cooling vests.
Officer Thomas “Calwof, as you know, has been a huge supporter of wildlife officers, their families and the canine program, and Calwof saw an opportunity to support us again by launching a fundraiser to acquire cooling vests for our canine partners. As handlers, we saw a need for this equipment that would make the dogs safer and give them the ability to perform longer… and we live in California and it’s hot here! If we can get cooling vests for the dogs, it may make a difference in mitigating a heat related injury during training or during a real life scenario where the dog is an absolute vital tool. I mean, if it were your loved one lost in the woods, wouldn’t you want to know the dog following their scent is able to work at maximum efficiency for as long as possible to locate them? Our canine partners are our family and they selflessly serve their communities alongside us.”