Chief: It’s time we patrol our own waters
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – Police Chief Bence Hoyle said now is the time to create an around-the-clock lake patrol to police the town’s waters. Hoyle, who spoke with Mecklenburg County Leaders in the fall, said the slow winter months for lake patrols make it the perfect time to give the department the go ahead.
Hoyle proposes 24/7 coverage, which he said would cost less than what the county pays to have it part-time now. He said the town needs an always-on lake patrol.
“(The current lake patrol) leave at 8 p.m., but the bars are open until 2 a.m., and we get the 911 calls from people on boats, loud music on the water, fights, etcetera, and when we transfer to Charlotte, they don’t have a boat, so we’re left with a call we can’t answer,” Hoyle said.
He said the other issue is the lake patrol officers don’t live in Cornelius, so it takes them too long to get back to town to respond to calls.
From January to November 2011, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police received 76 citizen-initiated calls, 2,543 officer initiated calls, 2,124 zone checks, 63 citizen contacts and 82 motor stops.
Hoyle said for what Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department pays, because their salaries are a lot higher, the Cornelius Police Department could provide better service for less.
“In Cornelius, we have a car just 30 seconds from the boat ramp, and it would only take 15 minutes to get someone in the boat and out on the water,” Hoyle said. “It makes more sense for us to do it, and we made that proposal to the county to take over the Lake Patrol and not wait until July.”
Hoyle said weekends in the summer are “horrendous,” with lots of parties and reckless boating.
“In July this will be a big topic,” Hoyle said. “It’s not a big topic in January because the calls are not as frequent, but I still get them. I’m trying to do something now, so we have a response in July.”
He said there have been discussions with the county since Christmas, but nothing has been worked out yet. Ideally, the money would somehow be distributed to the town and police department, so they could provide the lake patrol.
“Last summer, I put a lake patrol unit full time out there, I had to address it,” Hoyle said. “We had more than 100 911 calls just us, not including Charlotte, from Memorial to Labor Day. It just gets overwhelming, and I had to address it. You don’t want to leave people hanging and not responding because of jurisdictional issues.”
Hoyle said adding the full-time lake patrol unit last summer meant stopping all of the police department’s crime prevention programs, as well as pulling officers from traffic.
“We just can’t do that again,” Hoyle said. “If the county accepts the proposal, we’ll do lake calls. But that’s the county’s decision to make, there’s not a lot I can do. I’m not going to propose Cornelius pay for it.”
A call to County Commissioner Karen Bentley was not returned by press time.
Hoyle said there’s been a lot of community support for this effort, with the Lake Norman Marine Commission also endorsing the plan.
Hoyle said his proposal is not critical of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department’s handling of the lake patrol, “I just see the value of a faster response,” he said.
“I know this is money but it’s less than they’d spend and better response time,” Hoyle said. “We’re too close and too involved to not do anything. We have the highest registered boat density in the state by almost double; the next closest zip code is Morehead City. We have 230 registered boats per square mile in Cornelius. We also have all the boat ramps, 75 miles of lakeshore. Any event on the lake affects us directly. It just makes sense to do it. But we have to get that political change to happen. If we could get every 911 call answered, not just some, I’ll be happy whether we do it or not. But they need to be answered in a reasonable time.”