Town of Beloit to start water patrol in spring

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Gina Duwe
Monday, January 27, 2014

TOWN OF BELOIT--The Town of Beloit Police Department will begin a boat patrol on the Rock River in southern Rock County this summer.

The town board recently approved the program and soon will vote on the nearly $20,000 purchase of an 18-foot Lund boat, Town Administrator Brian Wilson said. An incentive program through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will reimburse the cost of the boat over the next five years, he said.

“Every year we have a lot of complaints,” Police Chief Steve Kopp said. “It runs quite a range.”

Because of the high river levels well into summer last year, he heard a lot about slow, no-wake violations.

“We don't have the means to enforce those kinds of things,” he said.

Other violations commonly reported are reckless or drunken boating and thefts and burglaries along the river where the suspects use boats to get to and from crime scenes, he said.

Authorities aren't able to count how many times they've been called to the waterway because the Rock County Communications Center software requires a land-based location, he said.

“We just view the river as an amenity in our community, so we have a couple of concerns,” Kopp said. “The most important one is to promote boating safety … and second is enforcement of those violations.”

The town would be responsible for just more than seven miles of the Rock River—about six miles within the town boundaries and the rest being south in the city of Beloit and north just north of Townline Road. The DNR and Rock County Sheriff's Office occasionally patrol that section, but not consistently, Kopp said.

“We just thought that it would be a good service to offer not only to the community here and visitors to ensure the river is a safe place to be in,” he said.

Some residents and board members expressed concerns about the patrol, Kopp and Wilson said. Some questioned the need for it, Wilson said.

He said he thought many of the negative feelings were a result of apprehension of having a local patrol and “wanting to make sure we don't be too heavy handed … that is not the intention.”

Staffing is yet to be determined, but Kopp said part-time officers will be used, and a portion of the time will be officers working overtime. Two officers will always be in the boat.

A DNR grant program reimburses equipment, training time and about 60 percent of officers' straight time, Kopp said, so the patrol will have a minimal impact on the town's budget.

Kopp hopes to start the patrol in May when the weather warms, he said.

“We'll target those times when boating activity is at its peak—weekday evenings and weekend and holidays is what we'll focus on,” he said.

The boat will be stored in or near the water at one of the local marinas so response time would be reduced in an emergency, he said.

Last updated: 3:54 pm Monday, January 27, 2014

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