The Student Law Enforcement Association (SLEA) is a student-run program at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point that allows students to help the community while gaining hands-on experience themselves in dealing with natural resource laws.
“We put on recreational safety courses, so we improve knowledge of the local community so they can be safer,” said Dale Romback, president SLEA and student at UWSP. “For our students and members, we help diversify their background and give them some experiences that they wouldn’t normally get.”
The majority of SLEA member are seeking careers in natural resource law enforcement. Although members of SLEA do not actively participate in enforcing the law, they do routinely work closely with state wardens in putting on safety classes, helping with an annual river watch and listening to them speak at weekly meetings.
“I Joined SLEA initially because I came to school and I wanted to be a conservation warden, and of course that is just where you go if you want to become a conservation officer,” Dustin Masin, an active member of SLEA. “Through SLEA I got my internship with a warden and networked with a dozen other wardens. And that just built up my resume and got me my first couple of jobs. It’s pretty much just a stepping stone, but it’s the first stepping stone in getting that experience to go on and get your first career.”
SLEA members put on three to four safety classes a semester for the local community. The classes center on hunter safety, bow safety, boater safety and ATV safety. The classes are attended by a warden who will speak briefly, but other than that the classes are completely run by SLEA members. Students can become certified by the state to teach these classes through working with SLEA.
Members of SLEA also occasionally have the chance to assist in local law enforcement in special training. Last summer they were asked to participate as civilian actors in a training day for the surrounding counties’ SWAT team. They played victims, injured civilians and armed threats. They also periodically work with city police to make sure places that serve alcohol are carding underage patrons. While a city police officer waits in the car, a underage SLEA member will go into an establishment and attempt to purchase alcohol. Romback said that while this doesn’t really train them in anything, it is a way to help out the city police.
One of SLEA’s major programs is the annual river watch. Members spend almost two days fishing on the banks of Lake Michigan Tributaries. While there, they watch for people illegally capturing the spawning salmon. During the fall, the water is lower, and there are thousands of salmon for the catching. SLEA members are watching for people who grab the fish with nets or hands instead of fishing the legal way. When SLEA members spot people doing this, they notify a warden, who will then address the issue. They are also out all night making sure that people are not fishing at night.
“That is basically the program everyone who has gone will say it is the most fun thing they have done. It’s a lot of long hours. You work all night, all day and then all night again. But it’s a lot of fun. You build bonds with people your first year here,” Romback said.
Romback stated that the experience students will gain and connections they will make while in SLEA will assist them in obtaining future careers in law enforcement.
“A lot of our opportunities as far as getting experience is actually getting into an officer position and running the show and making those contacts with all the wardens to set things up,” Romback said. “If you go in and someone has already recognized your name, or you have done something that they have heard about before—that’s something they look for.”