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Water Cops


Like the swallows heading to San Juan Capistrano, or the monarchs to Mexico, summer in Boise means another type of migration.

People across the valley find themselves inexorably drawn to the water—a pull that increases exponentially as temperatures rise. They come as if lured by a subconscious tune played by a pagan water god, bringing with them the tools of water-worship: inner tubes, rafts, kayaks, canoes, beach towels, coolers, sunscreen and those little arm floaty things.

The type of water doesn't seem to make a difference, be it river, lake, reservoir or blow-up kiddie pool. But along with the promise of aquatic recreation comes a litany of issues, including alcohol, small children and, oh yeah, drowning. Now that the Boise River is open to floaters, law enforcement agencies across the valley are following the crowds to the watering holes, making sure the rules are followed and that safety comes first.

Both the Ada County Sheriff's Office and the Boise Police Department have officers out on the water this summer. So, in the midst of your summer revelry, don't be surprised if a cop goes floating by on the boat next to yours.

That's right, BPD officers will be on the water as well as on the Greenbelt all summer long, stopping what department spokesperson Lynn Hightower calls "problem behavior."

The No. 1 problem behavior: open containers of alcohol.

"They want people to be out there having a good time, but the environment out there is such that excessive alcohol is behind a lot of the problems on the river," Hightower said.

Those problems include minors with alcohol, drunken driving and obnoxious behavior.

Law enforcement officials do have some recourse. The City of Boise long ago banned alcohol from the river, a restriction that was upheld by a court decision in 2005. Since then, BPD went through an educational phase and has since moved on to the enforcement phase.

Anyone caught with alcohol on the river or along the banks will be given a general misdemeanor along with a summons to appear in court. It's up to the judge to issue whatever he or she thinks is an appropriate fine. Hightower is quick to qualify that while alcohol violations are the biggest problem, they are far less frequent than they were even a few years ago.

The majority of offenses are caught along the Greenbelt, which is patrolled not only by uniformed officers, but by volunteers and seasonal Greenbelt rangers. Patrols are also beefed up when school resource officers are reassigned to the river patrol during summer vacation.

Thanks to their daily presence, BPD is usually the first to respond during accidents or emergencies, although the department works closely with Boise Fire Department's dive team, which specializes in water rescues.

Hightower reminds floaters that glass containers of all types are banned on the river because broken glass is both a safety hazard and unsightly. And, instead of tossing your trash in the river, try using the handy little rest stops along the way. Complete with portable toilets and trash cans, it's just the kind of thing that keeps the river clean—in all sorts of ways.

One more reminder: State laws require that there are enough life jackets on board for all passengers, and anyone under age 14 needs to actually wear them. Even on the Boise River.

Special river patrols will run through the end of the floating season, which will depend on weather and water levels.

For more information on daily river conditions, check Ada County's Web site at for the scoop.