CPO summer tasks include a lot of boat time

Kids and life jackets should go hand-in-hand on the water.
STOCK - Mother with her son and daughter in a motor boat, August 2004 (Keith Levit)

Last summer, over the 4th of July weekend, I had the opportunity to ride along on boat patrol on the Mighty Mississippi with two conservation police officers – Audrey Jones and Steve Beltran.

Unfortunately, the day was cool and overcast, so I didn’t get to see as much action as I was hoping for, but then, a lack of “action,” is probably a positive thing. And it still proved to be an exciting new experience that I was thankful to be part of.

Most of the safety compliance checks ended like one would hope. The responses received were positive overall, and boaters genuinely appeared to appreciate the fact that there are trained professionals patrolling the river in an effort to keep them and others safe.

One thing that I hadn’t really expected was that, for Jones and Beltran, each stop wasn’t simply a matter of “getting down to business.” Professional lines were never crossed, but it was clearly important to both of them that they establish friendly relationships by creating positive interactions with each group, regardless of the individual circumstances they encountered. In fact, the majority of the safety compliance checks ended with mutual smiles, waves, and “thank you.”

It was impressive to watch Jones and Beltran work together, especially during a couple of the more complicated encounters. They each took on different tasks that applied to the situation at hand, but not without conferring with each other first. Seriously, at the risk of sounding a bit over the top, I was in awe of their ability to work as a team.

When Jones and Beltran work together on boat patrol, before their shift begins, they will purchase tokens good for a free ice cream cone from a local mom-and-pop-style ice cream parlor. When they inspect a boat in which all children on board are wearing a life jacket, they give each child a token to redeem for a cold treat. They do this because it’s a way of supporting a local business as well as helping boaters to recognize that safety checks aren’t intended to interrupt their fun. Rather, a simple but kind gesture not only encourages folks to keep up the good work, but it puts a human face to the uniform and badge, so to speak. Even more importantly, it allows kids to see law enforcement in a positive light.

Unfortunately, of all the boats with children who met the age criteria and were required by law to wear a life jacket, only one family received ice cream tokens. The rest were issued citations, and with good reason. Frankly, I’m not sure how Jones and Beltran remained so professional under those circumstances. As a parent and grandparent myself, saying that this behavior angered and sickened me is an understatement. It wasn’t even about blatantly ignoring the law, but blatantly ignoring a law meant to keep their own children from being injured or worse. It was revolting at best.

Beltran said that issuing citations isn’t something they enjoy as CPOs, but it beats having to call in a rescue team to pull a kid out of the bottom of a lake. Jones added that there are certain images that they can’t un-see and will carry with them for a long time.

Boaters, please follow the rules and help keep the waters safe this summer.


Categories: Illinois – Keri Butt

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