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Public Safety

Justin Kirnon, Sr. Governmental Relations Associate, Georgia Municipal Association
Last Updated: February 23, 2018

Police Services


The delivery of police services in the United States is overwhelmingly a function of local government. In fact, local units of government make up the largest percentage of all expenditures for this purpose and employ 66 percent of all police officers nationwide. More than two-thirds of Georgia’s municipalities provide police services with departments ranging in size from 1 to more than 2,000 officers (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) Survey 2013).

A police department that is well operated can be a great advantage to a city. Because the police are so visible at all times of the day and night throughout a community, to some extent they become a gauge by which citizens measure the quality of the entire spectrum of municipal services. Further, a well-managed department can help avoid costly litigation. Police departments can also be a source of time- and resource-consuming litigation. Suits may be lodged based on many grounds, such as claims that officers were improperly or insufficiently trained or were negligently employed or assigned, that they were not supervised, or that officers used excessive force in making arrests. Moreover, officers today seem more inclined to sue their employers, claiming that they have been sexually harassed or discriminated against on the basis of race or gender or that other important rights have been violated. A department that is improperly administered and operated can be a significant liability that can literally cost a city millions of dollars for just one incident of wrongful behavior.
 
A well-operated police department can be a considerable asset to a city. It can be a source of pride and can enhance economic development because it is one of the aspects that industries or businesses evaluate very carefully when considering moving to a community.

The Functions of a Police Department

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), all municipal police departments must
  1. identify criminal offenders and criminal activity and, where appropriate, apprehend offenders and participate in subsequent court proceedings
  2. reduce the opportunities for the commission of some crimes through preventive patrol and community problem solving
  3. aid individuals who are in danger of physical harm
  4. protect constitutional guarantees
  5. facilitate the movement of people and vehicles
  6. assist those who cannot care for themselves
  7. resolve conflict
  8. identify problems that are potentially serious law enforcement or governmental problems
  9. create and maintain a feeling of security in the community
  10. promote and preserve civil order
  11. provide other services on an emergency basis
  12. conduct criminal investigations, including forensic investigations of unsolved crimes
  13. engage youths in public safety education via school resource officers as well as school-based and community-based programs
  14. maintain a public information program to provide the public with timely public safety
  15. maintain police records system, and
  16. maintain an ongoing dialogue with civic, church and municipal leaders and community members concerning public safety issues. 
Police-Community Relations

The ABA not only lists what the public perceives to be the police role—investigations, apprehension, and assistance in prosecution—but also includes functions associated with preserving the peace and order of a community. Despite popular perceptions of the police as crime fighters, in actuality, police officers spend no more than 15 percent of their time actually enforcing the law. The rest of the time they are engaged in delivering social services, such as mediating a dispute between two families regarding what one child said or did to another, helping the victims of natural disasters, and providing a link between those in need of help and the social service agency best able to assist them.

In response to these demands for police to spend time on community problems other than those that are purely crime-related, a method referred to as community oriented policing (COP) has emerged. COP is primarily characterized by ongoing attempts to promote greater community involvement in the police function and customized police service. Nationwide, many law enforcement agencies are implementing community policing strategies to help combat criminal activity, build relationships with community stakeholders, and transform negative perceptions of law enforcement.
 
In contrast to traditional policing, which is largely reactive to crime, COP is proactive, attempting through the use of timely information to resolve community problems before they become crime problems. In this context, the individual officer no longer simply responds to calls for services and reported crimes. Instead, patrol officers also become coordinators of municipal services and neighborhood welfare.
 
Elected officials should engage in conversations and take steps toward implementing innovative community policing strategies for the purpose of building stronger, safer municipalities. Since each municipality differs in size, socioeconomic status, racial and cultural make-up, the programs implemented will differ and should be tailored to the needs of each city.

Organizing Police Services

General principles such as avoiding excessively wide spans of control should be followed, but there is no single best way to organize a police department. Many factors will influence the actual organizational structure, including the types of services provided, the extent of specialization, the total number of personnel, and the preferences of the chief.
 
Although there are a number of possibilities for structuring a police department, it is generally recognized that all of its elements fall into three broad categories: line, auxiliary, and staff (see Table 1 below).
 
Line units seek to achieve directly the broad goals prescribed for the police. The primary element of line services is uniformed patrol. In a large city, about 45 percent of the force will be assigned to uniformed patrol. Other line units include traffic and investigation. Auxiliary services are immediately supportive of the line units, including operation of the jail/detention facility, communications, the crime laboratory, records and criminal identification files, and evidence storage. Staff services also support the line function but less directly than do auxiliary services. Staff services include training, fiscal management, recruitment and selection, planning and research, and public information efforts. Only the largest cities have police departments with the full range of line, auxiliary, and staff elements. Medium-sized municipalities with a quarter to a half million residents may lack one or more elements, such as a crime laboratory, while the smallest police departments will have only the patrol elements.
 
 
Employment and Training Standards

Municipal law enforcement officers must meet the minimum standards of the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Act, which created the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council to certify persons subject to the act (O.C.G.A. § 35-8). Certification is based upon statutorily specified pre-employment standards and successful completion of a mandatory 408-hour basic law enforcement training course, which must be completed within six months of a person’s appointment as a peace officer (O.C.G.A. § 34-8-9(a)).
 
To fulfill pre-employment requirements, a person must:
  1. be at least 18 years of age
  2. be a citizen of the United States
  3. have a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent
  4. not have been convicted by any state or by the federal government of any crime, the punishment for which could have been imprisonment in a federal or state prison or institution, nor have been convicted of sufficient misdemeanors to establish a pattern of disregard for the law
  5. be fingerprinted and a search made of local, state, and national fingerprint files to disclose any criminal record
  6. possess good moral character as determined by investigation under procedure(s) established by the council
  7. be found, after examination by a licensed physician or surgeon, to be free from any physical, emotional, or mental conditions that might adversely affect the exercise of the powers or duties of a peace officer; and
  8. successfully complete a job-related academy entrance examination provided for and administered by the council.  
Additionally, most departments also require an oral interview with the hiring authority or its representative to determine the applicant’s appearance, background, and ability to communicate. As do all Georgia peace officers, chiefs of police and heads of law enforcement units must annually attend a minimum of 20 hours of training with certain courses mandated starting January 1, 2017. Officers who fail to complete this training may lose their power of arrest unless they secure a waiver of this requirement from POST. Any chief of police or department head of a law enforcement unit whose term or employment began after June 30, 1999, is required to complete 60 hours of executive law enforcement training in addition to the basic required training. This additional requirement may be waived if the chief or department head has served as a police chief or department head of a law enforcement unit since December 31, 1992, without more than a 60 day break in service and has previously completed the required executive training or other equivalent training (O.C.G.A. § 35-8-20 et seq.).

When law enforcement agencies believe in and are supported with a budget for training, there is a greater likelihood that your city will see fewer liability claims. Training produces smarter and more professional officers who are capable of making better judgments. The smaller the training budgets, the more opportunity for liability claims because officers without sufficient training may act on survival instincts alone, and their decisions may not be based on what they have been trained to do.
 
Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) is a private, nonprofit organization formed in 1979 by four national associations: International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The commission has developed a national set of law enforcement standards for all types and sizes of state and local agencies, including municipal departments. There are two tiers, with Tier 1 requiring that 189 standards be met, while Tier 2 has 484 standards. CALEA fosters police professionalism, which is reflected in the stated purpose of its accreditation programs:
to improve the delivery of public safety services, primarily by: maintaining a body of standards, developed by public safety practitioners, covering a wide range of up-to-date public safety initiatives; establishing and administering an accreditation process; and recognizing professional excellence.
The accreditation process is a voluntary undertaking. Recently, significant movement toward accreditation has been spurred by two factors. First, since most of the standards identify topics and issues that must be covered by written policies and procedures, successful accreditation offers a defense, or “liability shield,” against civil litigation (Gary W. Cordner, “Written Rules and Regulations: Are They Necessary?” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 58, no. 7 (July 1989), p. 18). Second, CALEA provides a nationally recognized system for improvement. Fundamental to the accreditation process is assessment, beginning with self-assessment (Russell Mass, “Written Rules and Regulations: Is the Fear Real?” Law and Order 38, no. 5 (May 1990), p. 36). During this stage, an agency undergoes a critical self-evaluation that addresses the complete range of law enforcement services provided. Later, the agency is assessed by an outside team of law enforcement professionals who are brought on site to determine whether the agency has complied with applicable standards for a department of its type and size.
 
CALEA enjoys wide support among police executives and community leaders. Its accreditation process can be a substantial benefit to a municipal police department that has performance problems. This process is not without its critics, however. Some view it as “window dressing long on show and short on substance,” a reference to the fact that some departments allegedly meet the standards by developing the necessary policies and then fail to actually follow them. Other critics have maintained that the process is control-oriented and at odds with the important value of individual initiative.
 
Some law enforcement agencies that wish to undergo self-evaluation and improvement may not be financially able or willing to make the commitment to the CALEA process. The State of Georgia Law Enforcement Certification Program offers a professionally recognized methodology to make systematic improvements to such agencies.
 
The State of Georgia Law Enforcement Certification Program was developed in late 1996 through the collaborative efforts of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police (GACP), the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, the Georgia Municipal Association, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, and the Georgia Police Accreditation Coalition. Although voluntary, the certification provides a comprehensive blueprint for effective, professional law enforcement. The process of certification begins with an agency’s self-assessment, including review of the certification program’s standards manual, determination and demonstration of the agency’s compliance with the standards, and establishment and implementation of new procedures to address those standards not currently met by the agency. GACP then conducts an on-site assessment of the agency, observing the entire agency and interviewing its personnel. Finally, after reviewing the report of the on-site team, the Joint Review Committee either approves or denies certification, and, if approved, the award of certification is made to the agency.
 

Municipal Jails


Ordinarily, municipal jails or detention facilities are operated by police departments. The typical municipal jail is a holding facility for accused persons who have not been able to secure release on their own recognizance or bond or who are awaiting a preliminary hearing or trial. Because a jail’s population typically consists of pretrial inmates, turnover may be as much as 75 percent every three days. Most jails also hold other types of prisoners, such as “overflow” inmates from other jurisdictions, inmates awaiting transfer to another facility, federal violators being housed pursuant to a contract, and offenders serving short-term sentences.
 
Some cities decide to contract with other municipalities or a county for the provision of pre-trial jail services. This is usually done with the passage of an intergovernmental agreement between the two bodies. Liability issues, housing fees, and medical treatment and expense payments are clearly specified. Charges are most often based on the number of prisoners housed in the facility per day. When a municipality uses their county jail for pre-trial detention it can also be debated that there should not be an additional cost to the municipality because the municipal residents are already paying county taxes for the facility.
 
Jail inmates retain all of their rights as citizens, except as may necessarily be limited to properly operate the facility. When a city operates a jail, it assumes responsibility for the safe, legal, and humane custody of the inmates. Inmates have considerable rights. Jailers have been successfully litigated against for reasons such as unsanitary jail conditions, inadequate feeding, recreational facilities, and visitation policies, and protection from assaults by other inmates.

Jail Standards and Training

Georgia state statutes provide some guidance as to the requirements for operating a jail, and a body of specialized case law has evolved regarding this area (O.C.G.A. § 424-4-2). Serious problems can arise when personnel are assigned to jail duty without proper training. The basic entry-level training course prescribed by POST does not constitute such training. It is an excellent foundation for general police work, but all personnel assigned to the jail must complete the 80-hour jail training course offered by the Georgia Public Safety Training Center (GPSTC) in Forsyth (O.C.G.A. § 35-8-24). Because of the extreme liability risk involved in operating a jail, municipalities should carefully evaluate the need to do so. When a jail is established, it should be in full compliance with applicable standards.
 

Fire and Emergency Services

 
Fire departments have changed from being the primary providers of fire prevention and suppression services to an integral component of a community’s homeland security system. The transition has been a natural extension of fire departments developing an all-hazards response system. Fire departments now provide hazardous materials response, technical rescue, emergency medical treatment, and other specialized functions along with traditional fire prevention and suppression functions.
 
In more urbanized areas fire departments spend most of their time responding to medical emergencies. In these departments it is important to have properly trained Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics. It is also extremely important that stations, equipment, and personnel are staged properly so that emergency medical assistance can arrive in time to deliver assistance that will make a difference. Fast effective response times can be one of the key benefits to living in a developed city.

In general, any fire department of a municipality shall have the authority to:
  1. protect life and property against fire, explosions, hazardous materials, or electrical hazards
  2. detect and prevent arson
  3. administer and enforce the laws of the state as they relate to fire departments
  4. conduct programs of public education in fire prevention and safety
  5. conduct emergency medical services and rescue assistance
  6. control and regulate the flow of traffic in areas of existing emergencies, including rail, highway, water, and air traffic, and
  7. perform all such services of a fire department as may be provided by law or which necessarily appertain thereto (O.C.G.A. § 25-3-1).  
In order to carry out its mission and authority, a municipal fire department must be legally organized. The chief administrative officer shall notify the executive director of the Georgia Firefighters Standards and Training Council (GFSTC) if the organization meets the minimum requirements and rules to function as a fire department. In order to be legally organized, a fire department must
  1. be established to provide fire and other emergency and non-emergency services in accordance with standards specified solely by the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council and the applicable local government
  2. be capable of providing fire protection 24 hours a day, 365 days per year
  3. be responsible for a defined area of operations depicted on a map located at the fire station, the area of operations of which shall have been approved and designated by the governing authority
  4. be staffed with a sufficient number of full- or part-time or volunteer firefighters who have successfully completed basic firefighter training as specified by the Georgia Firefighters Standards and Training Council, and
  5. possess certain minimum equipment, protective clothing, and insurance (O.C.G.A. §§ 25-3-22, 25-3-23).
The municipality responsible for the establishment and operation of a fire department should adopt a formal statement of purpose and define the responsibilities of the fire department. A functioning fire department needs
  1. master planning
  2. adequate equipment and facilities
  3. effective fire communications
  4. employment and training standards
  5. ongoing training
  6. a fire prevention program
  7. knowledge of the fire-rating process, and
  8. a sufficient water supply.  
Master Planning
A fire plan can be used to improve fire department efficiency. The plan normally contains a survey of existing services and a schedule for improving them. The plan should be revised regularly to reflect changes in the department’s scope of mission.
 
Adequate Equipment and Facilities
Fire departments need various types of equipment, including
  1. vehicles to transport firefighters to fires
  2. vehicles to transport and pump water to fires
  3. equipment on the vehicles to fight fires, such as pumps, ladders, hose, self-contained breathing apparatus, and fire extinguishers
  4. protective clothing, such as coats, helmets, and boots
  5. rescue equipment to be used in vehicle accidents such as the jaws of life
  6. medical diagnostic equipment, backboards, immobilization devices, medication, ADTs and bandaging
  7. hazardous substance devices such as brooms and other items that contain or soak up chemicals and gasoline
  8. decontamination units
  9. communication devices for individuals and equipment, and
  10. heated fire stations located at sites that best serve the greatest number of residences and businesses. If possible, the stations should be large enough to conduct training sessions.  
Effective Fire Communications
Citizens should be able to call a well-publicized emergency telephone number to report fires. Volunteer firefighters need to be equipped with communication devices such as smart phones or pagers. The central dispatcher sends a signal activating a “beeper,” or pager, which is carried by volunteer firefighters who respond to the alarm. Vehicles traveling to the fires should have the capacity for constant two-way communication with the dispatcher, other fire departments, and law enforcement agencies in the area.
 
Employment and Training Standards
Georgia law requires that all firefighters, fire and life safety educators, fire inspectors, and fire investigators meet certain standards. The Georgia Firefighters Standards and Training Council is charged with the establishment of uniform minimum standards of employment and training and certification of those individuals who meet the standards (O.C.G.A. § 25-4).

Any person employed or certified as a firefighter shall
  1. be at least 18 years of age
  2. not have been convicted of a felony in any jurisdiction within 10 years prior to employment (with certain exceptions)
  3. have good moral character as determined by investigation under procedure(s) approved by the council
  4. be fingerprinted and a search made of local, state, and national fingerprint files to disclose any criminal record
  5. be in good physical condition as determined by a medical examination and successfully pass the minimum physical agility requirements as established by the council, and
  6. possess or achieve within 12 months after employment a high school diploma or a general education development equivalency.  
As a condition of continued certification, all firefighters shall train, drill, or study at schools, classes, or courses at the local, area, or state level as specified by the council (O.C.G.A. § 25-4-8 et seq.).
 
Fire Prevention Program
Without commitment, any effective fire prevention program is difficult to implement. Every fire department should encourage fire prevention because it saves lives and prevents property damage, which is a personal and community loss. For 2016, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported 475,500 structure fires per year or about one per minute. Overall, the number of structure fires decreased steadily from 1977, when NFPA began gathering fire statistics, to 2015. This trend can be attributed to successful fire prevention efforts. Fire prevention programs remain a good investment because they coordinate resources from throughout the community to address the fire loss problem. New efforts in fire-safe building design, fire sprinkler installations, and fire inspection are required to reduce community fire loss and tax base erosion.
 
Fire prevention programs should have three main areas of focus: enforcement, education, and engineering. Building codes and fire code enforcement address two of the main fire prevention elements. Properly planned and constructed buildings and facilities reduce risks to the public and firefighters who live and work in Georgia cities. Fire sprinkler systems in buildings are not only preventive mechanisms but also reduce insurance costs and the need to maintain surplus water supply for firefighting. Installing fire sprinklers in residential occupancy buildings, including single-family homes, will represent the next step in reducing the number of lives lost in fires. Fire safety education can yield positive results by ensuring community awareness. A study of fire loss and fire causes can direct resources to educational activities such as safe home cooking and heating, installation and maintenance of smoke detectors, and escape planning.
 
The Fire-Rating Process
Every fire chief should understand how fire departments are evaluated for insurance purposes by the Insurance Services Office (ISO). Fire personnel should understand the basis for the department’s existing rating and what is required to improve it.
 
For the purpose of establishing homeowners’ and fire insurance rates, each fire department is rated or classified by ISO. In making the evaluation, ISO uses the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule as a guide for evaluating fire suppression capabilities. It places departments in one of 10 classes, with a Class 1 rating being the best and Class 10 the worst. To meet the minimum level of protection recognized by ISO, a fire department must have at least a Class 9 rating.
 
In evaluating fire departments, ISO representatives measure three principal features of the fire suppression system: fire alarms and responses, fire department, equipment personnel and training, and water supply and hydrant location. In each of these three areas, ISO inspectors assign credits based on the quality of performance. The final rating depends on the percentage of total possible credits received.
 
Water Supply
Fire suppression efforts depend on an adequate supply of water to fight fires. Flow and pressure required for industrial and commercial fires are typically greater than those required for residential fires. An ongoing program of fire hydrant inspection and maintenance helps to ensure adequate water pressure.
 

Emergency Management


Emergency management is a government function that centers on coordinating available resources in planning for, responding to, and recovering from a wide variety of events that can injure significant numbers of people, do extensive damage to property, and generally disrupt community life. Local elected officials are responsible for providing emergency management services for their communities as part of the duty to maintain law and order and protect lives and property. In our state, emergency management is a collaborative effort among local governments, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (42 United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) § 5121 et seq.; O.C.G.A. § 38-3-1).
 
Emergency Management Organizations

Many counties and cities have established emergency management agencies, with a paid full- or part-time or volunteer director. The number of staff and the complexity of operations vary widely, depending on community needs and resources. Although some federal monies are available to support local programs, most activities are funded from local resources. The general authority for program rules and regulations is found in federal and state law.
 
Regarding disaster relief assistance, Georgia law provides that any county or city that does not establish a local emergency management organization will not be entitled to any state funding for such assistance (O.C.G.A. § 38-3-35). In Georgia, there are 161 local emergency management agencies, including 159 county organizations and 2 city agencies. Local directors are appointed by the director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) but are nominated by the local governing body and serve at the pleasure of local officials.
 
Program Functions
 
Generally speaking, the goal of local emergency management organizations is to save lives, protect property, and coordinate the rapid restoration of essential services and facilities in time of disaster, whatever the cause (natural or technological) and whenever the occurrence. Many routine work activities associated with these organizations are common to risk-management or mitigation programs in the private sector.
 
A functioning, operational program must have an emergency operations plan that clearly defines available resources and the responsibilities, authority, and channels of communication for all involved personnel, including law enforcement officers, firefighters, and social service representatives. In order to properly prepare a plan, local officials should first conduct a hazard and risk analysis of the community, assess current capabilities, and take affirmative action to ensure that additional resources are available when needed. In addition, the plan should be routinely exercised to ensure its effectiveness and currency. Finally, key emergency management staff from all affected agencies and social service groups, such as the Red Cross, should receive appropriate training in response and recovery activities.
 
A Changing Focus

Over the last 50 years, the emphasis in emergency management has shifted away from a concern with civil defense preparedness toward a fuller awareness of the wide variety of potential disasters and emergencies faced by communities. While tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, and other natural calamities are the most visible types of disasters, they are not the only ones. For example, recent improvements in technology have produced a growing potential for chemical spills and leaks, nuclear accidents, and other technological hazards. Such emergencies, characterized by rapid onset, low predictability, and a high potential for destruction, may soon become the major emergency management problem facing many communities because they present the greatest risk and are the most difficult to control. Some communities have even defined events such as prison escapes as emergencies and have developed plans and response actions accordingly. Of course, what constitutes a disaster or emergency for a particular community depends largely on its size and complexity, its array of resources, and its capability to effectively manage problems.
 
Standards for Emergency Management Directors
 
Georgia law establishes certain qualifications and performance standards that local emergency management organization directors must meet (O.C.G.A. § 38-3-27). Local directors who are employed full-time are required to
  1. be at least 21 years of age
  2. not have been convicted of a felony
  3. have a high school education or its equivalent and have completed certain emergency management training courses
  4. be capable of writing response and recovery plans, and
  5. be routinely available to respond to emergency scenes and to coordinate emergency response of public and private agencies and organizations.
Similar requirements apply to paid part-time directors.
 

Animal Control

 
Municipal officials often receive complaints about animals. State law requires cities to regulate or license animals in the control of rabies. This responsibility is shared with the county board of health, which has primary responsibility for the prevention and control of rabies and must appoint a county rabies control officer (O.C.G.A. §§ 31-19-1, 31-19-7).
 
Although taxpayers (particularly those who are not animal owners) may complain about the cost of an animal control program, they usually look to the local government not only to control rabies, but also to solve nuisance animal problems. In response, some communities have initiated programs to combat the problems of pet overpopulation and animals roaming free. The goal of these programs is responsible pet ownership. Four main components of the programs are
  1. an animal control ordinance that makes the owner legally responsible for the pet
  2. an enforcement program that employs properly trained field officers to patrol the community
  3. a facility that provides humane and sanitary housing for animals, and
  4. a public education program to inform pet owners that responsible pet ownership is the law (Phyllis Wright and Susan B. Stauffer, “Practical Management of Animal Problems,” Management Information Service Report 13 (Washington, DC: International City Management Association, April 1981)).  
Two potential sources of revenue are available to help fund such an animal control program. For example, a municipality can establish an animal licensing process that requires owners to register every cat and dog and to pay a registration fee. Registration of animals not only raises revenue for the animal control program, but also aids in owner identification (so that a lost animal can be returned to its owner) and in regulating animals in the city. Permits for commercial animal establishments, such as kennels and pet shops, are another revenue source.
 
Although a municipality can administer its own animal control program, it may choose to contract with a local humane society to do so. The city then pays the society to provide services such as pet sterilization, public education in the responsibilities of pet ownership, and animal shelter facilities and staff. A municipality may also sign an intergovernmental agreement with their county to allow the county jurisdiction over animal control violations within the municipality.
 
If a community is having issues with bears, coyotes or other wild animals, the municipality can contact state wildlife officials. Licensed trappers are also a possible resource.
CONTACT
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