Walworth County warden named top water cop

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Kevin Murphy/Special to The Gazette
Monday, October 28, 2013

MADISON--A Wisconsin conservation warden who patrols Walworth County lakes has been named the nation's top cop on the water by a national boating organization.

Juan Gomez, a Wisconsin warden since 2008, was selected from 43 officers nominated for an honor awarded last month by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.

“Juan has represented our department at its highest level,” Wisconsin Chief Conservation Warden Randy Stark said in a prepared statement. “Juan is known for his commitment to safe boating where he is stationed, which is a highly populated area with 30 lakes, including the popular tourist area of Lake Geneva.”

Gomez has been proactive in addressing the problem of operating while intoxicated, organizing special enforcement efforts at several large events in southeastern Wisconsin.

Gomez and up to a dozen wardens monitor the Lake Beulah Tie Up, for example, and some years make 10 or more OWI arrests.

“The Lake Beulah Tie Up is a scaled-down version of the Lake Okauchee Tie Up … Last year we only had two OWIs, (at Lake Beulah). The year before it was 10,” he said.

Earning the award does not mean Gomez wrote the most citations for violating boating regulations, said Todd Schaller, the Department of Natural Resources section chief for recreational enforcement and education.

Gomez achieves high marks in community policing, boating safety education and enforcement, Schaller said.

“It's not just writing tickets but engaging the public and users to find solutions to problems,” Schaller said.

Whether those solutions mean posting better advisories at boat landings or working closely with local law enforcement or lake associations, Gomez has been successful in all areas the DNR and national association prizes for public service, Schaller said.

Gomez prefers education to enforcement and annually conducts three to four safe boating clinics. Last year he certified 105 students as safe operators.

Trouble occurs when people haven't been instructed to operate water craft. Gomez and fellow warden Jason Roberts were on Lake Beulah, saw three people fall off a jet ski. The jet ski kept moving and Gomez prevented it from colliding with a pier and helped the three people out of the water.

Gomez said inexperience lead to the incident.

“They weren't aware they had to wear the lanyard that cuts off the machine if the operator falls off," he said.

After the summer recreational boaters leave the lakes, Gomez remains on patrol to check duck hunters and fishers for life jackets and fire extinguishers, sometimes until the water freezes.

“I'll be out on the water until December. (Geneva Lake) is one of the last in my area to freeze up,” he said.

Then it's patrolling for snowmobilers as conditions permit, all-terrain vehicles and ice fisherman.

The seasons dictate the warden's activities, something Gomez said he appreciates.

“The summers are long, and by the end of summer I'm ready for it to be over. The fall becomes super busy with all the hunting that happens, and by the end of November I'm ready for that to end, too,” he said.

There is no cash bonus or commendation for earning the national award, and Gomez said the award would not have been possible without a supportive team of wardens and the department behind him.

“It's a great team that assists with everything that I was nominated for,” he said.

Schaller counts modesty among Gomez's qualities.

"Whether he's working with individuals or groups, he a very good people person, that's one of the reasons he succeeds in this business,” Schaller said.

Gomez is the third Wisconsin warden to win the award in recent years. Ben Treml won in 2011, and Roger Hanson won in 2000. Both are Green Bay area wardens.

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