Lake patrol as much PR as crime fighting, officer says
It’s still police work, but when Dan Kinning takes off in the sheriff’s department lake patrol vehicle at Marion Reservoir, he knows he could encounter situations unlike any from his regular job as Hillsboro police chief.
“Every once in a while we get skinny dippers,” he said.
Kinning has seen a lot since his first spin around the lake about 30 years ago as a sheriff’s deputy.
These days he shares a part-time gig patrolling with Lyle Gillett. The pair alternate weeks providing security at the reservoir from May through September.
“There used to be several of us, but it got to be a little hectic,” Kinning said. “I enjoy it, and I know Lyle enjoys it.”
To be sure, there are things he doesn’t enjoy: intervening in domestic disputes, dealing with disorderly conduct and noise complaints, and drinking parties.
When Kinning intervenes in situations, those involved are mostly unfamiliar to him. He said that can be advantageous.
“It’s actually easier, because they’re not people I go to church with, see in the supermarket, or see on a daily basis,” Kinning said. “It’s difficult to deal with somebody you know well in a bad situation.”
Occasional reports of missing children provoke anxiety, Kinning said.
“The alternative is always scary because we don’t know if they’ve wandered off or someone’s taken them,” he said. “We’ve always found them. Sometimes they’re really lost, sometimes they’re where they’re not supposed to be.”
Incidents are down this summer, Kinning said, because about half of the camping spots have been closed since mid-June because of flooding. Early season blue-green algae warnings also kept people away from closed beaches.
Despite lower numbers of campers, there’s a hazard Kinning has a tough time avoiding.
“Another problem out there — everybody wants to feed you,” he said. “We drive around with the windows down, and you can tell what they’re cooking.”
Lake patrol is as much about public relations as it is about dealing with problems, Kinning said. When campers arrive after dark, he often escorts them to their campsites.
When he stops to talk with campers, conversations aren’t always about the weather or how good the fishing is.
“I get people asking me for legal advice all the time,” Kinning said. “Most of the time it’s something that’s happening somewhere else.”
Kinning and Gillett interact frequently with campground hosts and gatekeepers, Kinning said, calling them “a wealth of information” for where people are camped and where problems might be.
Sheriff Rob Craft said the Corps of Engineers will pay the county about $28,000 for providing lake patrol, which covers costs and provides a surplus that will be saved for a patrol truck upgrade.
Having officers dedicated to lake patrol provides flexibility for the rest of the department, Craft said.
“It frees up my officers so they can visit Ramona, Durham, Burns, Tampa, and everywhere else,” he said.
Kinning said he enjoys the change of pace from doing desk work and patrolling Hillsboro streets.
“The environment out there is beautiful,” he said. “It’s well kept and there’s a lot of wildlife. It’s a nice environment to work in.”