Boat Patrols Looking to Add More Volunteer Deputies
Hennepin County has 104 lakes and only 10 licensed law enforcers to keep them safe.
And that's potentially problematic given the number of drownings and drunken boating incidents in the county so far this year.
To help fill in the safety gaps, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Water Patrol has about 25 volunteer deputies. Problem is, that's just not enough and the Office is in search of more.
Out patrolling on Lake Minnetonka Friday, Deputy Jayson Johnson explained the importance of the Water Patrol. "There are no lanes, no stop signs, no road markers or anything like that," he said.
Johnson, who has a day job with the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, has been a volunteer deputy for 13 years. He's not officially licensed as an officer but he does have arrest powers. As part of his duties he makes occasional "safety checks" on passing boats to make sure they have enough life jackets and a fire extinguisher. "We do come across a lot of safety equipment violations," he said.
And then there's the BWI issue--boating while intoxicated. On one recent weekend Johnson helped detain a half-dozen boaters for drunken driving. There have been 36 BWIs in the county so far this year. Last year at this time there were 35. "It can be very problematic," Johnson said.
But he adds, "I have seen far more designated drivers out on the water this year."
Johnson does this work free of charge, he says, simply because he loves being out on the lakes. But he doesn't always love what he sees. "The majority of people are out to have a good time but you do get the people who overdue it," he said. "You'll get the calls for medical when the people jump from one boat to another but only their head makes it. They've cracked their skull open."
Drownings continue to be another significant issue in the county. There have been 6 so far this year and 14 near-drownings. The worst part of the job, Johnson says, is recovering victims deep underwater "where we need to have the sonar team involved and we need the divers. About half of our dive team is volunteers."
The Hennepin County Sheriff''s Office Boat Patrol is looking to add about 20 more volunteer deputies to its reserves. Those accepted will undergo about 10 weeks of training. They need to be available to work at least one weekend day, every two weeks. For more information log on to waterpatrol.org