“We are law enforcement off the pavement,” Game Warden Cpl. Shawn Elmore told the Calhoun Rotary Club at its meeting on Thursday. “Am I going to pull you over if I see you speeding and going 90 down the road? Probably, yeah, I’m going to stop you and make you a little late to where you’re trying to go. Our primary focus, though, is on conserving natural resources and protecting the people we serve.”
That has been the goal of the department’s law enforcement division since its earliest days as the oldest state law enforcement agency in Georgia. The division mainly centers its attention on protecting coastal resources, environmental protection, historic preservation, law enforcement, state parks and historic sites, and wildlife resources. In the last year alone, DNR’s law enforcement officers checked 26,279 boating vessels to ensure they were up to standard and found 5,085 boating violations.
But monitoring boating, hunting and fishing are not the only things the department does. Sometimes, officers’ jobs are much more difficult and harrowing.
“I missed the first two Easters of my son’s life because I was searching for bodies,” Elmore said. “There were 56 drownings in 2018. Please, wear a life jacket when you’re out on the water.”
Drownings do not, unfortunately, mark the only time when DNR officers are forced to face death head-on. The division also participates in disaster and body recovery efforts after events like hurricanes and tornadoes, a counterterrorism taskforce, and occasionally helps work murder investigations in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies.
Elmore shared one instance in which he was asked to participate in a Child Abduction Response Team investigation. It was 2012, and 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera had gone missing from her apartment building in Canton’s River Ridge Apartment complex.
“We found her dead in a trash compactor. The man who did it committed suicide before trial. It was a self-inflicted death sentence,” he said. “I don’t have sympathy for people who could do something like that to children.”
Children hold a special place in Elmore’s heart. He has coached softball for the city and county, and he has been a coach at Gordon Central High School. He also visits local schools to host wildlife programs with seventh graders, in-school boating class programs and hunter education courses. At Gordon Central and Sonoraville High School alone, Elmore hosts six hunting classes a year.
“To me, public education is the most important thing, especially for kids in the world we live in. They don’t always trust or know what to think about law enforcement,” Elmore said. “That’s why it’s so important to me to be in the community and coach and teach. I want them to know who we are.”