Presence is the key
Times columnist rides along with sheriff deputies
September 16, 2009
Editor's note: The following is another installment in a series of first-hand accounts by columnist Doug Hunter as he rides along with deputies from the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department. The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication.
During the briefing Marine Deputy #803 says her sole purpose is to protect and serve the citizens of St. Clair County to the best of her ability. The task at hand is the safety of a crowd estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000 on a small island called Gull.
The event was 'Jobbie Nooner II' about a-third the size of 'Jobbie Nooner I' held in June.
But the June gathering has assistance from the Coast Guard, Homeland Security, Border Patrol, Macomb County Maritime Division, Ontario Provincial Police, Ira Township Fire and Rescue, St. Clair, Marine City, Clay Township Police and Fire and Rescue.
Today, September 12, St. Clair County will field four boats and two wave runners with emergency support from the Ira Township Fire Department.
Counting Ira, 15 men and women to control a crowd supercharged with alcohol and possibly drugs.
A task that would make even General George Custer rethink and wait for reinforcements, but not the deputies of the St. Clair County Marine Division.
After being joined by Deputy 804 and finishing the briefing we board our vessel P.B.2. This boat, a 34' Avanti powered by twin 250 horsepower Mercury engines with sirens, blue flashing lights, and radio with the brazen word 'Sheriff' painted on either side is the main offensive weapon at our disposal to maintain law and order.
The water is as clear blue as the sky as we leave the Pearl Beach headquarters of the Marine Division with the longest shoreline of any Michigan county and waterways totaling 110 miles. The force that quarters coastal safety is small but is as determined to seek justice as any agency on land.
Deputy 804 guides the vessel toward a 38'cabin cruiser. Turning on the flashing lights the boat slows and P.B.2 pulls alongside. Deputy 803 in a stern but friendly voice informs the captain of that vessel that he is creating a wake in a wake free zone. Immediately he claims ignorance of the fact.
The shoreline is fragile and the homes and summer cottages that surround the water are continually being ravaged by waves of speeding boats.
Pointing out a "No Wake'' sign to the operator Deputy 803 quickly checks his registration and makes him produce the mandated safety equipment each boat on Michigan waterways must possess. The life jackets weren't available and in plain view, she instructs him that they must be in sight and available in case a mishap should occur. "They are useless locked in the below deck cabin,'' she exclaims. After he retrieves the life jackets we push off and head south once again.
Entering Lake St. Clair Deputy 804 pushes on the throttle and the big twin Mercurys respond. Turning to port hundreds of boats of every size and shape come into view. They line and surround a small speck of brown and green land. This is Gull Island. Heading toward this speck I look south again onto Lake St. Clair. Another armada of boats surge toward this infamous isle for one last summer binge of alcohol, drugs and decadence.
Throttling down as we make our approach the sounds from at least 100 different points of music fill the air. Women dance on the bows of countless boats, some suggestively. People move from boat to boat. The water is filled with persons of all ages. Every-one has a beer or glass in their hands. Some lug coolers packed with ice, beer, bottles and booze of every type and form. This is a party like no other. It reminds me of spring break in Florida. Only the majority of participants are older, some much older.
Between each anchored row of vessels is a 40 foot space for water activities. Volleyball is being played in some. Others stand in the water dancing or drinking from hoses attached to funnels. They are all friendly to P.B.2, to my surprise.
On Friday the deputies had made an access path to the island proper with posts and yellow police tape for immediate access for emergencies. Pulling into this right of way many people approach, some intoxicated, and say how glad they are of our presence. Deputy 803 is correct when she said our presence was the best deterrent to crimes at the briefing.
Lieutenant Denny Maurey approaches on a jet ski and gives a short overview of the present situation. The lieutenant is a 30 year veteran of law enforcement, recently retired from the Port Huron Police Dept. As the day progresses it becomes more apparent why he was chosen to lead this division of the sheriff's office. Time and past experiences with crowds has given him a clear understanding and wisdom on how to control uncontrollable situations with limited resources and personnel. Any small incident can turn into mayhem if not handled correctly. Primarily when alcohol is so voraciously being consumed.
His orders are to patrol on the water and at 4 o'clock return to the taped right of way for shore patrol.
By that time the crowds' mood would change from merriment to melancholy.
Departing the restricted area we circle the growing crowd. Estimates by deputies range from three to four thousand people, boats in the hundreds.
Deputy 803 says this is about a third the size of the June Jobbie Nooner. With 804 at the helm, PB. 2 makes its presence known as we stop boats from speeding, check safety equipment and registrations. Radio contact is constant between the four boats and two wave runners were vigilant to be on the lookout for trouble. Visibility is the order of the day.
With the 4 o'clock rendezvous approaching Deputy 804 carefully guides PB.2 into the restricted zone. The runs between the anchored boats called 'the gauntlet' by deputies is aptly named. Lt. Maurey is correct in the professional assessment he earlier had described. The females are now full of merriment but alcohol has made the males irritable. Just what alcohol is infamous for.
Now joined by Sgt. Burg, a man with a warm smile and calming element, we go ashore. Tensions are high. Several times we witness people accidentally bumping into each other. Quickly words are exchanged and shoving starts. Lt. Maurey and Sgt. Burg immediately step between the potential combatants and diffuse the event.
Once again their presence stops the potential violence.
As the sun starts to hang low in the western sky Lt. Maurey says, "The most dangerous time is now as the boats leave with props turning and the water full of drunks—we must be highly visible to get them to refrain from a sudden exit and running over those yet in the water.''
Boarding PB.2 we exit to make our presence known. Suddenly an outboard bolts forward just missing a man in the water. Deputy 804 hits the siren and lights and surges forward to stop the reckless behavior. Immediately the operator of the outboard decelerates.
Approaching, Deputy 803 orders him to follow us to deeper water away from the crowd. The siren seems to sober the many departing boats as we pull alongside, tie and secure the errant vessel.
Deputy 803 orders the man to put on a life vest and board PB.2. The man, about 30 years of age, quickly complies. While officer 804 maintains control of the vessels and the other occupant another deputy quickly administers a Breathalyzer test. While the subject repeatedly says he meant no harm to anyone and yes he did have a few too many.
In a way I feel sorry for the guy. He is friendly, kind to everyone, but the vision in my mind of that propeller tearing through flesh soon consumes my thoughts.
The man fails the sobriety test miserably and so does his companion. Dispatch is called and a salvage boat soon approaches to haul the boat and its now lone occupant back to a marina.
Deputy 803 places the man under arrest and handcuffs him.
The radio crackles. A domestic violence is in progress in a boat outside a bar on Harsen's Island. PB.4 responds as they are the closest. The radio bellows again. PB.3 responds to that call.
Docking at Marine Division Headquarters, deputies 803 and 804 quickly disembark PB.2 with their jovial subject in tow for the ride to jail. His last words to me are, "That woman cop was right to arrest me. I can hardly walk on land.''
Watching the patrol car leave I sit down to await Lt. Maurey for his final assessment of the day.
Quietly contemplating the day's activities I think of what Deputy 803 had said at the briefing and what Lt. Maurey's strategy was for this possibly volatile event.
It reminds me of philosopher and Chinese General Sun Tzu and what he said in 400 B.C, "Know your adversary and know yourself. All control is based on deception.''
Lt. Maurey, Deputy 803 and all the others understood this and that is why they closed out Jobbie Nooner II without any loss of life or property. The key was visibility.
If continued sheriff department coverage is important to you, let Doug know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, email Doug to share your story or comment on this column.