In New York, drivers of smoke-bellowing trucks, owners of oil-oozing body shops, vendors of undersize fish and other city dwellers underestimate Officer Neil Stevens at their peril. As a member of a small force of police officers whose sole focus is enforcing environmental laws, Stevens carries a gun and handcuffs and can haul a suspect off to jail, reports the New York Times. These environmental conservation officers number barely 20 in New York City, out of about 300 around the state, but issue about 2,000 summonses for violations and criminal charges annually.
Created in 1880, when they were known as “game protectors” and watched over game and fish, these eco-police officers are now part of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and have become more prominent in recent years as public consciousness about the role of pollution in global warming has grown. They now answer complaints and respond to dispatchers' calls in addition to carrying out spot inspections and longer investigations. Violations of the bottle bill are the most common complaint the officers deal with in the city. Over all, environmental complaints in the city almost tripled in 2007 – to 621 a year from 226 in 2006 – and criminal summonses more than doubled, from 993 to more than 2,000.