GALVESTON TX Aug 4 2012 — Armed lifeguards, who became certified police officers, began patrolling the seawall and sand this year, acting as tourism ambassadors with the power of a badge.
Galveston Island Beach Patrol lifeguard officers Joe Cerdas and Austin Kirwin, who graduated from police academies, are part of the Tourism Oriented Policing program, which began this year.
The bicycle officers’ main concern, however, remains lifeguard duty, then to enforce beach ordinances, such as prohibition of glass containers and alcohol on the seawall beaches, Kirwin said.
“Our main job isn’t to take people to jail,” Kirwin said. “It’s to inform them of the rules, be seen and make sure everybody keeps the peace.”
Galveston police and the Park Board of Trustees have been unable to provide security on the seawall beaches for several years, Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis said.
“With little enforcement on these areas there is a danger that tourism could be affected,” Davis said. “Additionally, the undue burden falls on the lifeguards and lifeguard supervisors, who are ill equipped to handle the distraction from their primary duty that law enforcement issues present.”
The $154,000 cost of the program came from “trickle down” moneys, which are excess convention center funds, Davis said. The cost of the program, if approved again by the Galveston City Council, would drop next year to $126,000 because the officers are already trained.
Six officers were trained, but only two patrol at a time 10 months out of the year. December and January are reserved for training, maintenance and special projects, Davis said.
The officers have made contact with more than 8,000 tourists as of July 28 and taken 7,219 regular and environmental enforcement actions. They educate the public on the importance of protecting the coastal environment. They also have medical and lifesaving gear and carry a tourism tool kit with brochures about Galveston, water safety and stickers and stamps for children.
The first contact with ordinance violators is friendly and just a warning, Davis said.
“We’re not out there writing a bunch of tickets or making a bunch of arrests,” Davis said.
Those ignoring warnings might cause the officers to take it to the next level, Davis said.
“The goal is to have people who are out here want to come back and have a safe and enjoyable experience,” Davis said.
Source:the daily news