AUSTIN, Texas - The Austin Police Department’s Lake Patrol Unit is gearing up for a busy Memorial Day weekend.
From sundown Friday to sunrise Tuesday, the unit will enforce a personal watercraft ban.
"That basically goes to engine propelled devices, jet skis, those surfboards that have like the electric motor on them," explained Officer Brad Smith.
Non-motorized devices like canoes, kayaks and paddle boards can still be used.
The weekend will be busy, but officers anticipate greater challenges ahead. On August 1, two of the unit's eight officers will be moved to patrol due to department budget cuts, part of the city’s effort to "reimagine" policing (link).
Officer John Carrasco says two officers must be in an Austin Police boat at all times, due to safety requirements, one of those officers must be from the boat patrol unit. The boat patrol officers receive specialized training. An officer pulled from another unit receiving compensation time, also known as an "auxiliary officer," is allowed to serve as a crewman after passing a swim test.
"If you do the math it’s stretching us thin to say the least," said Smith, who believes Austin police officers will soon be forced to leave some lakes temporarily unmonitored.
Smith says Texas Parks and Wildlife does patrol the same lakes, but as he understood, this will still impact response times.
"Because we don’t keep a boat [on] say Decker Lake. We don’t keep a boat out there... That’s 21 miles of Lake Austin, so if we’re say zone 15, mile 15 up, we’re gonna have to drive 15 miles on a boat to get here, get a truck, go pick up another boat, and then bring it out to the Lake."
FOX 7 Austin asked Texas Parks and Wildlife how many TPWD officers patrol Lake Austin, Lady Bird Lake, and Decker Lake — and if they have a plan in place to compensate for the Austin police staffing cut. A TPWD spokesperson responded:
"TPWD will be working area lakes as we always do with our partners at APD and TCSO to provide safety patrols and to look for intoxicated boaters."
FOX 7 Austin again asked TPWD to answer the questions above and will update this article accordingly.
FOX 7 Austin also contacted the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. A spokesperson provided this statement:
"Lake Travis is covered by TCSO Lake Patrol deputies. There are generally 2 boats on duty, but we increase that number on holidays and weekends when the lake is busy.
We do not patrol lakes in APD’s jurisdiction.
We stand ready to assist law enforcement agencies throughout Travis County at their request, if we have deputies and assets available. "