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Turn In Poacher arrests reach record high

The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks. (Republic file photo)

Poachers, beware.

The Turn In Poachers (TIPs) hotline made the highest amount of arrests in the program's history, with 364 investigations leading to 227 arrests last year.

Roughly 78 South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks (GF&P) conservation officers work in the state, and one officer averages a typical assignment of 1,700 square feet.

"So we can not be everywhere all the time," said Joe Keeton, TIPs program coordinator. "And so we really rely on citizens and sportsmen that if they see a violation to turn it in."

The TIPs hotline was created in 1984 and is a service that allows citizens to call or go online to report if they observe illegal hunting or fishing activity. The annual reporting period from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017, led to the most arrests in program history.

Of the 227 arrests, there were $32,000 in fines and $17,600 in liquidated civil damages imposed. In cases that lead to an arrest, individuals can be rewarded between $100 to $500, with higher rewards for the more severe crimes.

According to Keeton, the most valuable information an individual can provide when reporting a violation is a license plate number. Other information that can be helpful is a description of the vehicle, the wildlife that was poached, the description of the person and the location where the violation occurred.

"Every tip we receive, one of our officers will follow up on, " Keeton said.

Keeton, who has been the program's coordinator since October 2016, also attributes the use of the program's Facebook page with spreading the information that can lead to arrests.

During summer months, the tips called in on the hotline are typically fishing related, with more calls received when hunting season kicks off. All calls are sent to the state dispatch center where an officer is assigned a case. The program is funded entirely by donations.

Keeton said hunting and fishing guidelines are put in place to keep populations stable.

"It certainly takes a burden off our officers knowing we have good, ethical sportsmen out there in the field that just like wildlife and do not want it illegally taken," Keeton said.

To date, the TIPs hotline has investigated 11,658 cases leading to 4,181 arrests. To report illegal activity or violations, individuals can call the TIPs hotline at 1-888-OVERBAG (683-7224), or go online at tips.sd.gov, or on Facebook.