Lake Patrol brings service offshore

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Unlike the Austin Police Department’s area command patrol, the agency’s Lake Patrol Unit takes a more service-oriented approach to enforcing the law.

Austin Lake Patrol ­— comprised of one sergeant, one corporal and eight officers — began in the 1940s. Only recently did it become a part of the police department’s responsibilities, said APD Sgt. Louis Candoli.

In 2008, APD consolidated other law enforcement agencies, acquiring park police, airport police and city marshals. Candoli and Cpl. Steve Scheurer transferred from SWAT to the boat patrol following the merger.

“It’s slow, but it’s necessary,” Candoli said. “There’s not a lot of law enforcement out here, but a lot of city ordinance enforcement things. We’re like the AAA. Most of our calls come from stranded boaters, so we go out and tow their boats.”

The Austin Lake Patrol Unit — one of about 425 units in Texas — look over the three major lakes in the city: Walter E. Long Lake, Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin.

“Ninety-eight percent of what we do is out here,” Scheurer said. “We just have two people on duty at any time, so it’s kind of hard to spread out and cover everything.”

The unit possesses two jet skis and seven boats, three of which are defunct, said Officer John Scott. But they acquired two new “unsinkable” boats, made mostly of steel, before the 2010 Labor Day holiday.

“I feel like I’m running for office every time I get in the boat,” said Officer Jose Delgado. “Everyone usually waves at you even though they don’t know you.”

The boating season begins on Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day, and the unit’s officers see about 200 boats on Lake Austin during summer weekends. During the winter off-season, officers in the Lake Patrol Unit prepare the equipment for the upcoming season and often assist in the department’s other units.

Delgado said he used to see a lot of personal watercrafts, or jet skis, but little by little, their numbers have dwindled.

“They constituted most of our accident statistics — collisions, personal injuries either by themselves or against an object,” Delgado said. “I tend to equate or compare them to motorcycles because quite a few of the riders will tend to take unnecessary risks that are impossible in a boat.”

A boat collision is never the same as a car accident because there is a greater chance of fatality, Delgado said.