Monday, September 4, 2006

Slough of challenges -- From anglers to kidnappers, patrol keeps waterways safe

From Daily Republic
By Audrey Wong

SUISUN CITY - Suisun City police not only keep the streets safe, they also protect people on the waterways.

Seven officers serve on the team that patrols the surrounding sloughs and bay - mostly on weekends during the summer when more people recreate in the slough. But the team will respond to emergencies year round. The officers regularly patrol the city, then work on the water in addition.

"People are more casual on the water," Suisun City Master Police Officer Trish Hart said. "They're relaxed. It's a nice way to contact people."

But the officers still encounter peril in the water.

The marine patrol scoured the slough off Grizzly Island Road Thursday to help Fairfield police search for an alleged kidnapper.

On July 4, the unit helped rescue a man and his 5-year-old son by the lighthouse, Hart said. The two were in a kayak that toppled and both plunged into the slough. The child was scared but father and son wore life vests, which helped, Hart said.

In mid-August, the unit helped the Solano County Sheriff's Marine Patrol with a boat accident involving five occupants, Suisun City police Sgt. Bob Szmurlo said. The boat was speeding at high tide, then ran over a levee and became airborne. No one was hurt.

Suisun City's boat patrol has helped stranded boaters and members have crawled out of bed to help fishermen whose boats got stuck in the mud in the middle of a cold foggy night, Szmurlo said.

The unit's boat has a global positioning system that helps the crew navigate when it's dark or the mist hangs heavy over the water. The state Department of Boating and Waterways provided funds to Suisun City police to purchase the boat. The same department pays for the Marine Patrol. The team also has two jet skis on loan.

The marine patrol's duties aren't limited to helping those in distress. On a recent cool, windy Sunday, Szmurlo, Hart and Officer David Fong glided out from the harbor into the slough.

Not many people were out because of the weather. So the boat team performed the other part of its job - safety education.

The trio came across a man with two children they saw earlier in the harbor. Hart asked for their life vests and informed the man that the law requires children younger than 12 to wear life vests. The children complied.

The boat patrol isn't out to write citations but to remind people about safety, officers said. The marine unit has life vests to loan to boat passengers who lack life vests and even have vests for children.

The unit also monitors jet skiers. There have been problems with people riding jet skis in the marina by the first buoy, Hart said. They like to ride the wakes left by boats, but the law prohibits jet skis within 100 feet of the edge of a boat.

Officers also ride on jet skis. Every year a local business loans Suisun City police two jet skis to patrol the marina.

The marine patrol also enforces the basic Department of Fish and Game laws. They check fishermen for fishing licenses. One Sunday when the boat unit cruised into Montezuma Slough by Grizzly Island, they spotted a few men fishing. Some of the men looked up from their lines and held up the licenses hanging around their necks.

The police boat travels as far as the reserve fleet off Benicia and to Collinsville. The unit also helped out at numerous maritime events such as the Bass Derby in Rio Vista, boat races in Antioch and Fleet Week in San Francisco, and have assisted Napa County Sheriff's deputies.

Other local boat patrols include the Solano County Sheriff's Marine Patrol, which is full time. The sheriff's boat patrol covers waters from the Suisun City dock, reaching to the bordering counties of Contra Costa, Yolo and Sacramento, said Paula Toynbee, sheriff's spokeswoman.

The four deputies and one deputy sergeant patrol and conduct rescues, investigations, searches and recoveries. The sheriff's fleet has three patrol vessels and two jet skis. The fleet will soon get a new 28-foot rescue vehicle and American Honda Company Inc. will loan two new Aqua Trax F-12 X Turbo jet skis.

Reach Audrey Wong at 427-6951 or

No comments: