Under a memorandum of understanding, a BCSO deputy will be onboard the DNR boat patrolling the county’s portion of the lake Fridays through Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends.
“The majority of the lake is in Bartow County, and the sheriff is very concerned about any incident that happens on the lake and, yes, we’re here but we can’t always be here,” DNR Sgt. Mike Barr said. “... It’s going to be mutually beneficial because we not only bump into the boating incidents and the drownings and the lost people, there’s criminal acts that happen out here. That comes back on the sheriff. It’s going to be a dual patrol. They’re going to be looking from the water rather than shore and finding areas they haven’t even thought about.”
With the addition of the deputy, Barr said DNR patrols will see a significant jump in coverage.
“... I’m going to probably be able to raise our patrols on the lake by about 25 percent when we get going wide open with this,” he said. “Instead of running just one boat, for example, from 4 to midnight, I’m not going to be able to have a boat from 10 to 6 and another a boat from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. — the same vessel just one crew will step off and another crew will step on. It will greatly enable our time on the water.”
With manpower an issue for law enforcement agencies at every level, Sheriff Clark Millsap sees the joint effort as an opportunity for improved safety.
“... Since all drownings that happen in Bartow County are the responsibility of the sheriff’s office, I saw it as a way to not only be the first officer on the scene along with the resources that the DNR has — the boats, ... if we have to drag for a body or something like that,” Millsap said. “Plus, with all the accidents and all the mayhem that’s been happening on the lake lately, I saw this as another way, nothing but a positive thing, to make Lake Allatoona and Bartow County a safer place by having a deputy in this boat with the DNR ranger and having eyes on there.”
One officer will be assigned to the DNR operation with five others available. All six deputies underwent boating safety certification and on-the-water training Tuesday.
“Right now, our Crime Prevention Unit ...., that officer is going to be assigned basically to that. We sent six officers and that way in case the Crime Prevention Unit officer is sick or he’s on vacation we’ve got somebody who can take his place,” Millsap said.
Deputy Stewart Duncan will be the assigned deputy with Sgt. Michael Burlison and Cpls. Brandon Pruitt, Blake Bowden, Nathan Gibbs and Matthew Beal available.
Millsap said no extra cost is involved in creating the partnership.
“No, we’re doing this without any overtime at all,” he said. “... We’re not losing any manpower because the Crime Prevention Unit, he doesn’t really answer calls. He’s out here checking buildings, he’s out here stopping cars, he’s out here trying to prevent crimes.”
For Pruitt, the joint effort allows both sides to learn and develop knowledge and skills of what each agency does.
“I think it will be very beneficial because, not only will it give us the experience to know what the DNR guys do on the lake, it will give them a sense of knowing that they have someone to rely on if they need us for backup,” he said. “I think our versatility in dealing with certain aspects of the criminal law whereas the DNR guys deal with the game laws and the conservation laws of the state. We, as deputy sheriffs, deal more with criminal law and traffic law, which can apply directly or indirectly to doing this.”
Labor Day weekend will be the “big test” for the program, which will launch fully next summer.
“You know the deputies have a tremendous amount of experience out of vehicles and dealing with people on a regular basis and they do a great job of it. The water environment is a lot different, so they’re getting used to that and assisting us with patrols,” Barr said. “This has the potential for really helping us out. We’re so few in numbers and this is such a busy lake. The most recent numbers I’ve looked at through the Corps say 6.4 million visitors per year to Allatoona and the surrounding area. We’re real happy to have their help, and it’s going to hopefully be a program that’s going to be real successful.”
Millsap echoed Barr’s comments.
“We do a lot now but this is something I see is going to have to be a need for in the future,” he said. “Everybody is short of manpower. Any kind of agreement we can come to with another agency that will help both agencies and this is going to be a great thing when it takes off.”