River enforcement draws questions from boatersWritten by Michael Stainbrook | | email@example.com
On a hazy and overcast Friday afternoon, Officers Neil Brokamp and Cory Hartman patrolled Maumee Bay on a 26-foot law enforcement boat. They approached a vessel for a spot check to determine if there were two life jackets suitable for the two men aboard. But before Hartman could utter a word, one of the men told him his boat had been stopped and inspected just the previous week. After assuring him they were just checking for life jackets, the man complied with the officer’s request and Brokamp steered the boat toward Downtown Toledo.
A boat inspection sticker on the starboard side of the stopped vessel confirmed the United States Coast Guard had boarded the ship sometime in 2010. The officers said they would not have stopped the boat if they had seen the sticker sooner.
Staying off the Maumee
Brokamp and Hartman work for the Division of Watercraft, a part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and one of multiple law enforcement agencies that have jurisdiction on Northwest Ohio waterways. This was not the first time the officers have stopped a boat that had been recently inspected by the Coast Guard — it happened again just a few minutes later during another spot check. No Coast Guard boats were in the area at the time.
“We see a lot of complaints because of their boardings,” Hartman said.
Local boaters have raised concerns about the multiple agencies patrolling the Maumee River and surrounding area. Some say boaters are staying off the river to avoid the chance of being stopped. That chance is very high, according to Harbor View Yacht Club Commodore Dean Reamsnyder.
“Boaters will tend now to either stay in port and go to their own club functions or go toward Michigan,” he said. “Most boaters are of the opinion that some time this year you’ll get pulled over.”
Federal, state, county and local agencies have concurrent jurisdiction on the Maumee River, and they can all site boaters for similar infractions. This has led boaters to question the number of law-enforcing bodies on the river.
“There are currently too many individual law enforcement agencies functioning independent of one another where people can drive down the river and be stopped four times,” said Jim Ragan, who managed the Glass City Marina in 2009.
“Traditionally, [the Maumee River] has been more of a place to relax. People are unable to do that when they’re stopped every 10 minutes.”
One boater described an experience he had in June 2007, when he was stopped and inspected by three different agencies in one day. He said the Coast Guard originally cited him for his expired registration and the Division of Watercraft inspected him later in the day. A third entity, whose identity he could not recall, then boarded his boat.
“The other two entities wanted to do their own inspection,” he said. “To me that was overemphasis on safety.”
Many boaters believe the agencies are not communicating effectively. Reamsnyder said communication could save officers and boaters the hassle of inspections.
“It seems like in the modern age they would be able to keep your boat number on a database,” he said, adding that such a system would allow officers to see if a boater has outstanding warrants.
But Master Chief Petty Officer Aaron Zimmer of the Coast Guard said boating enforcement depends largely on circumstances. For example, he said, place-of-use regulations require different equipment in different waterways.
“If you’re stopped by Rossford, the equipment you need on your boat is different than West Sister Island,” he said. “We want people to have fun, but also to be safe. Inspecting and stopping a boat are vital parts of that.”
The Division of Watercraft tries to stagger its shifts so it is not patrolling the same area as the Coast Guard. Brokamp said he typically spends half his shift on the Maumee River.
“When we see violations is when we stop. We don’t stop boats for the heck of it,” he said.
Once an inspection has been completed, an agency will give the boater some evidence that the boat has been stopped. This can range from a report of the inspection to a sticker to put on the outside of the boat. Zimmer said keeping the report on hand might dissuade other agencies from stopping the boat.
Authority and responsibility
Five separate law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction on the Maumee River. No two authorities share identical boundaries, but several overlap on sections of the river and Lake Erie.
The Coast Guard operates out of Station Toledo, located at 3900 N. Summit St. along the riverbank. This entity has jurisdiction on any navigable, federally maintained waterway from Marblehead to the Detroit River Light. The station employs several patrol boats to cover the area.
“We have a large area to patrol with a limited amount of resources,” Zimmer said.
The Coast Guard’s mission centers on safety. That mission is carried out through law enforcement and search and rescue. On a law enforcement stop, the Coast Guard may board a boat and check for proper safety equipment, such as flotation devices, a fire extinguisher and distress indicators, such as flares or a sound-producing device.
“We have many missions that we’re responsible for,” Zimmer said. “We have to balance safety and security.”
The ODNR Division of Watercraft also has broad jurisdiction. The Maumee Bay office covers eight counties in Northwest Ohio and has authority on all area rivers, inland lakes and some of the Ohio portion of Lake Erie. The Division of Watercraft is responsible for boating laws and marine safety, unlike the Division of Wildlife, which has authority on fishing and game. It also teaches a boating education course, which is required for any boater born after January 1, 1982.
“We’re very specialized in what we do. There are very few DNR agencies that have a watercraft division,” said area Supervisor Chad German.
German and three other officers staff the Maumee Bay office. One officer may patrol smaller bodies of water, such as the Auglaize River, but officers patrol larger waterways in pairs. Most patrols take place during the weekend.
The Division of Watercraft also funds operations for narrower jurisdictions. Lucas County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol received nearly $25,000 from ODNR this year and Perrysburg Twp. Marine Patrol obtained just more than $14,000.
Lucas County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol has jurisdiction on waterways within the county, including the Maumee and Ottawa Rivers and a part of Lake Erie. Capt. Robert McBroom said the Marine Patrol rarely navigates the two rivers.
“We are in charge of enforcing watercraft rules within Lucas County, but primarily, our duties are on Lake Erie,” he said.
Another county-owned boat is operated through the Northern Border Initiative (NBI), a federally funded project designed to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking to and from Canada. Officers from the city of Oregon and Monroe County operate the boat with Lucas County officers. McBroom said the NBI boat patrols the Maumee River when lake conditions are subpar.
“It’s hard to separate the two [entities] when the same boat’s being used,” he said.
On weekends, Perrysburg Twp. Marine Patrol operates an ODNR-funded vessel on a part of the Maumee River. The municipality only has jurisdiction on water within township limits, between Rossford and Toledo city limits, and this part of the river has no commercial boating. Officers manning the single patrol boat are primarily concerned with water devices such as jet skis, Sgt. Joe Christy said.
“We don’t take our boat out on the lake,” he said. “The big one we do is the personal watercraft.”
Toledo Police Department does not operate its Harbor Patrol due to a lack of funding.
The department still has jurisdiction on Toledo waterways, but would have to take drastic measures if the need arose, Sgt. Michael McGee said.
“We will have enforcement out there,” he said. “We depend on the Coast Guard, unless we commandeer a boat or something … in a matter of life and death.”
Oregon only has a presence on the river through NBI. Rossford and Washington Twp. do not have a marine patrol or work with NBI.
At other times, the agencies work together, such as Fourth of July weekend. Perrysburg Twp. Marine Patrol joins the others Downtown to help patrol during Toledo’s fireworks.
“There’s not one of us that could do it on our own. We pool our resources together,” Christy said.
The Lucas County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol safely evacuated nine passengers off a boat that caught fire on the Maumee River during the busy weekend.
“Thank goodness we were down there the other night,” McBroom said. “Our boat was there and did a great job.”
Ragan said law enforcement agencies received grants from the Department of Homeland Security through the Port Security Grant Program after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
He said this has led to more stops on the water.
“Since the boats are out there, [officers] said, ‘geez, guys, we need some paperwork to justify using the fuel’,” Ragan said. “It has squelched down the usage of boats on the waterway.”
Zimmer highlighted the number of boats the Coast Guard stopped in 2009. Of the 31,000 boats registered in the four counties in which Station Toledo has jurisdiction, the Coast Guard boarded 350 in 2009.
Six of those stops involved a boat the Coast Guard had boarded earlier in the year.
“We don’t unnecessarily go out and stop people’s trips,” Zimmer said. “We try to inspect the boats, but also try to minimize impact on the boater.”
On the Maumee River last year, Division on Watercraft issued 1,036 warnings, 75 citations (all for misdemeanors) and took five boaters off the water for operating under the influence. Division of Watercraft also conducts spot checks. Perrysburg Twp. Marine Patrol conducted 45 spot checks and wrote 53 warnings in 2009.
Lucas County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol primarily made contact with boaters on the Maumee River during holidays and special events. The entity made two stops in 2009, and the only five stops so far in 2010 took place during the July 4 fireworks Downtown.
Only two citations have been issued on the river by this agency since 2007.
Data from Toledo Police Department Harbor Patrol are being processed after Freedom of Information Act requests were filed.
“We each have a little bit different focus,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes those focuses overlap, but our ultimate goal is a safe environment for everyone to work in.”