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CPO Spotlight: Meet Officer Bonnie Braziel

CPO Bonnie Braziel and K9 Grace. Photo by Meghan Marchetti/DWR

By Molly Kirk

Each month in the Conservation Police Notes from the Field email, we at the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) are going to highlight one of our Conservation Police Officers and find out what the job means to them. 

Name: Officer Bonnie Braziel

Region and County of Assignment: Region 1 K9 Officer based out of Chesapeake

What do you love about your job as a Conservation Police Officer (CPO) for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR)?

I love the variety of work I get to do as a CPO. The changing of meteorological seasons also means the changing of hunting, fishing, and boating seasons. With this job you have the flexibility to work mornings, evenings, or nights depending upon those seasons. Being available when violations are occurring is the key to success in this job. I also like how no day is ever the same or predictable in this job.

CPO Bonnie Braziel and K9 Grace. Photo by Meghan Marchetti/DWR

This year has brought me a new level of love for my job, in the form of my K9 partner, Grace. We train tirelessly to be ready for our teammates when they need us. Grace is trained to detect deer/turkey, track people, and locate evidence. My new role as a K9 Officer has allowed me the opportunity to work with many new people in DWR, but also outside of DWR. We have been able to form networks with local, state, and even federal agencies that may need our assistance. I am looking forward to seeing what opportunities Grace and I have in the future to assist DWR or any other agency that might need us.

CPO Bonnie Braziel (center) training with K9 Grace as Senior CPO Richard Howald supervises. Photo by Meghan Marchetti/DWR

What inspired you to become a CPO?

The roots were laid for me to become a CPO from a very young age. I was blessed to have a family that enjoyed the outdoors and made sure I was always in it. I have vivid memories of hunting and fishing with my dad when I was growing up. My mom actually encountered her first CPO, (known then as Game Warden), while attempting to take me fishing as well. Both of my grandfathers were in law enforcement, too, so it felt only natural that I follow in their footsteps.

CPO Bonnie Braziel (left) fishing as a child with her father. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Braziel

As I grew so did my love for the outdoors and the natural resource. I worked at a dolphin watching/deep sea fishing facility through college. I majored in Recreation and Leisure studies in college, so I was able to be outside facilitating ropes course exercises while others were confined to their classrooms and books. Once I graduated college, I had to go out and find this “big girl” job that everyone talks about.

The first full-time job opportunity I had was in corporate America. I spent five years in that industry, met a lot of great people, and learned a lot, but knew this wasn’t my calling or career path. I found out about the CPO job and instantly knew this was my calling. I would finally be able to pair my love for the outdoors and all that is within it with the law enforcement background that runs deep in my family. I took a risk and applied to be a CPO, and was rewarded with the best job I could ever ask for.

What line of work did you do before joining the Dept. of Wildlife Resources?

Before joining the Department of Wildlife Resources I worked at an insurance company. Prior to working at the insurance company, I worked for seven years at Rudee Tours, a dolphin watching/deep sea fishing facility.

What wildlife and/or outdoor activities do you participate in on your own time?

Fishing has been my true passion since I was little. I enjoy going fishing in anything from a small drainage pond to the Atlantic Ocean. I am lucky enough to live on the coast, so I am able to experience a lot of saltwater fishing. I have been offshore and caught anything from black sea bass, striper, and blue line tilefish to mahi-mahi, yellowfin tuna, and marlin.

CPO Bonnie Braziel enjoys fishing whenever she can. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Braziel

CPO Bonnie Braziel harvested her first turkey in the spring of 2020. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Braziel

I also like to travel, and wherever I travel, I generally set up a fishing trip. I have gone trout fishing in Branson, Missouri, yellowtail snapper fishing in Key West, and made several stops in between. I enjoy deer hunting and turkey hunting too. I am still learning a lot about hunting but I have some great mentors helping me out. My family and I like to go camping, hiking, and biking also.

On Humpback Rock in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Braziel

What’s been your most memorable moment while working as a CPO?

There have been several moments while working as a CPO that I will always remember and treasure.

The fact that my office is now the outdoors has allowed me the ability to see some incredible sights. From stormy sunrises to picturesque sunsets, and anywhere in between, Mother Nature continues to blow my mind with her abilities.

I will always remember the cases that I worked and the violators that were caught. I love working with children and talking to them about what I do. From career days to meeting with Girl Scouts, children always find a way to make a presentation interesting. Also, whenever I am out and about and check a family fishing or a little girl with her dad hunting, it brings me back to my own great memories, so I always try to make it special for the children.

CPO Bonnie Braziel (fourth from left) meeting with a Girl Scout troop. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Braziel

The most memorable moment that has occurred recently has been directly related to my K9 partner, Grace.  One week after we graduated the academy, we went to help out a teammate who had come upon three guys shooting recklessly at one of our Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). In the radio traffic, I heard that one of the men was wanted on a felony charge, and there were two other men there.

I went to provide support to my teammate as an extra set of eyes and ears. Long story short, the situation escalated when we found out that a small child was almost hit by one of their bullets while riding her bike nearby. The two men that did not have a warrant were told to leave the scene, city police came and picked up the wanted man, and we were clearing up when I decided to get K9 Grace out of the vehicle and use this as a training opportunity. There were several 9mm casings on the ground, and she is trained to alert to gunshot powder residue. I put her into search mode and she blew right by those casings that were on the ground in front of us, went over to the tall grass, put her nose on something, and sat down, showing me a final indication.

I got over there and to my surprise she found another gun with a 50-round drum magazine attached to it. Time froze. I alerted my teammate who was leaving, and he advised me that the two men we had released from the scene earlier were coming back into the WMA. It was later discovered that the two men were coming back in to get the gun they had hid. The gun was taken for evidence in the case. I was so proud of Grace! We had no idea there was another gun on scene, since all of the men said they only had one gun, and the officer had only seen one gun.

It’s times like that when all of the effort you have put into training your dog totally pays off. Since then, K9 Grace and I have worked several cases, but I will never forget her first find!

If you’re interested in a career in law enforcement with DWR, click here: https://dwr.virginia.gov/conservation-police/recruiting/ or email recruiter@dwr.virginia.gov.

  • January 28, 2021