Combined river patrol makes both sides of the Mississippi safer

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Crawford County Deputy Nate Bremmer (left) and Clayton County Chief Reserve Deputy John Bell work together as part of the combined river patrol between the two sheriff’s departments. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Thanks to a joint patrol effort between the Clayton and Crawford County Sheriff’s Departments, both the Iowa and Wisconsin sides of the Mississippi River offer a safer environment for recreational activities.

The departments began the combined river patrol in 2015, said Clayton County Sheriff Mike Tschirgi. Prior to that, the county patrolled only its own 42 miles of river.

“With an officer from both counties riding in the same patrol boat, we can patrol both sides of the river and give better coverage,” Tschirgi explained, “along with saving in wages and promoting safer boating or recreation.”

So far, Tschirgi said, the partnership has worked well. He felt the river has become safer, as regular patrols keep boaters and other recreational enthusiasts on better behavior.

“We play it by ear,” Tschirgi said of when the departments decide to patrol the river. “If it’s a holiday weekend, we’ll definitely have someone out there.”

Tschirgi said Clayton County’s main patrolman is chief reserve deputy John Bell.

As of July 9, Tschirgi said Clayton County has participated in nine river patrols with Crawford County, as well as two special enforcement projects—one with the U.S. Coast Guard and another a Pool 10 enforcement project.

They’ve assisted other agencies, including the Iowa and Wisconsin DNRs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 12 times.

In addition, patrols have helped with two fireworks displays on the river, one for Marquette and another for Prairie du Chien; performed five boating while intoxicated (BWI) checks; towed in five boats; assisted on one drug violation; checked one property; and stopped 77 boats and 11 Jet Skis for violations.

Total contacts through early July include 403 adults and 70 children, Tschirgi noted.

He said violations include 32 for no wake zone, 33 for registration, 12 for reckless operation, three for personal flotation devices (life jackets), one for glass on the beach and one for kids jumping off a flood wall in Prairie du Chien.

Tschirgi said the patrol has especially encouraged kids to wear life jackets.

“The Beer and Bratz Garden [in McGregor] is working with us to promote safe boating by rewarding kids wearing life jackets,” he said.

So far, 32 kids have received tickets for wearing life jackets. These tickets are good for one ice cream cone at Beer and Bratz.

Tschirgi said this, in turn, facilitates positive interactions between kids and police.

“They learn we’re not bad guys,” he shared.

The river patrol helps with rescue situations, as well. Recently, Tschirgi recalled, the boat was on patrol and spotted a family swimming.

“They were wearing life jackets, but the current had taken them away from their boat and they couldn’t swim back to it,” he stated. “The deputies pulled them into our boat and took them back to theirs.”

The department also recently participated in the search for a woman who went missing at Wyalusing Beach, near Bagley. The sheriff’s office no longer has drag equipment, Tschirgi said, so deputies mainly assisted the fire departments by keeping recreational boat traffic away from the area.

When out on the river, Tschirgi stressed the importance of obeying posted regulations.

“There are a lot of no wake zones,” he said.

Safety is also key, he asserted, especially wearing life jackets.

“Right now, the current is bad,” he added. “You have to respect the river.”

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