Whatever criminal activity happens in a city, also happens in the national forests — plus some more.
So U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers investigate fires and drug dealing, pull over drunken drivers and speeders, and prevent thieves from stealing trees and artifacts.
And while all of Central Oregon’s Forest Service officers work hard to protect the area’s public lands, said Dan Smith, the agency’s patrol captain, Officer Hadley Hawkins, stands out — nationwide.
Hawkins, 38, who patrols the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District, part of the Deschutes National Forest, was recently named the sole winner of the nationwide Law Enforcement Officer of the Year from the Forest Service.
“What stands out about Hadley is that he’s willing to go above and beyond what many of the law enforcement officers do. He steps up and volunteers to do many additional duties,” Smith said. “When everyone takes a step back, he takes two steps forward.”
Hawkins said he was surprised to find out that he had won the award, and, at first, didn’t believe the fellow officer who told him.
“I think there’s certainly more officers that are deserving,” Hawkins said.
‘We’re all quite proud’
But in his letter nominating Hawkins, Smith listed many of his accomplishments. Hawkins participates in tactical operations and training, often with officers from other agencies who have praised his leadership skills.
He helps to make sure other employees are up-to-date with their firearms training, and he mentors them, Smith wrote. Hawkins helped teach at an annual winter survival school for law enforcement personnel at the request of staff with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Spokane. He has worked with off-road vehicle groups and has applied for grants that enabled the agency to buy a motorcycle for patrols.
Hawkins is a natural leader, Smith said: “We’re all quite proud of him.”
For Hawkins, the variety and uncertainty that comes with the job appeals to him.
“I always believe in helping out and volunteering for whatever needs done,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges Forest Service officers face is working mostly by themselves, without a nearby unit for backup, Hawkins said.
“My primary area is 1 million acres, and there’s two of us,” he said.
Training scenarios at the federal law enforcement academy teach officers how to handle situations where they might be greatly outnumbered, he said. And sometimes, that means not trying to break up a rave party of 400 people.
Hawkins recalled a party near the Deschutes River, where he stopped counting at 60 cars on the road leading up to the scene. At that point, he said, he backed up, called in fellow officers to help patrol outside of the area and stopped partygoers for drunken driving or other violations.
But he takes potentially risky situations and patrol stops as they come.
“I believe in being cordial and professional; I’ll treat people that way as long as I can, and go from there,” he said.
And if there are problems, Forest Service law enforcement officers and their counterparts at the county help each other out.
During the summer, some of the officers’ work focuses on finding and removing marijuana growing operations in the forest.
“I’ll be wearing camouflage and sneaking through the woods,” Hawkins said.
It’s a problem in forests all across the country, he said, but it’s also one of his favorite parts of the job.
“We definitely want to get the drugs out of the forest before they hit the street,” Hawkins said.
Lt. John Gautney, with the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement team, said he has worked with Hawkins a couple of times on cases involving marijuana gardens on national forest lands.
“From what I’ve seen of him, he’s very good at what he does,” Gautney said, citing Hawkins’ attention to detail and focus on the safety of his fellow officers.
Hawkins said that when he was young, he considered a career in fish and game enforcement with the Oregon State Police.
“I liked the idea of being outside,” Hawkins said. “I grew up hunting and fishing and being out in the woods.”
Decades of service
He started working for the Forest Service in 1988 as a firefighter and soon reached his firefighting career goal of being a superintendent of a Hotshot crew. Then he went to law enforcement officer training, becoming an officer in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2000 before transferring to the Deschutes National Forest in fall 2001.
And Bend is the “dream spot” for him, his wife and their infant son, he said.
Hawkins is committed to the mission of the Forest Service, said John Allen, Deschutes National Forest supervisor. He works to create a safe environment for national forest visitors to enjoy, and to protect the forest’s natural resources.
The award singles out Hawkins, Allen said, but also reflects on the team of Central Oregon law enforcement officers that back each other up.
“He’s a great guy, great officer, and we’re lucky to have him,” Allen said.