Enforcement boosted for summer, Cornelius brings additional officers
LAKE NORMAN – With summer officially here, area law enforcement agencies are ramping up lake patrols to keep patrons safe.
Lake Norman boasts 45,000 registered boaters, more than that on the North Carolina coast. With that comes the task of ensuring safety laws are followed and that someone is at the helm if an incident arises.
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Iredell County Sheriff’s Lake Patrol, Catawba County Sheriff’s Lake Patrol, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Lake Patrol, CMPD’s Lake Enforcement Unit North Division and the Cornelius Police Department Lake Patrol are tasked to cover the whole lake.
"I think it's very safe, and it's because of the constant, continuous patrols," said Sgt. Mark Faulkenberry of the CMPD Lake Enforcement Unit about all of the departments serving Lake Norman.
Last year, rainy weather decreased the number of boaters and emergency calls. CMPD, based out of Ramsey Creek in Cornelius, recorded 400 fewer calls than in 2012, which totaled 3,190. Already, it's been busier this year with the season just starting.
This year, officers in the eight-member CMPD lake patrol unit will be out on a new 28-foot silver ship boat with more accommodations for officers, medical patients or suspects and equipment. Many of the calls for service are reckless drivers or medical calls, Faulkenberry said, though the crew is also handling more safety and equipment checks. In the downtime, Faulkenberry said they complete zone checks to look for damage caused by storms and report anything suspicious on docks.
Patrols are at their peak during the typical boating season from Memorial to Labor Day. Faulkenberry said they try to be on the water several hours each shift, though are on call 24-hours a day with some officers living nearby.
Cornelius Police Chief Bence Hoyle has made it a mission for his department to also patrol the lake since their town has the most shoreline miles in Mecklenburg County. In 2012, he suggested Cornelius police take over lake patrol, but now said, his main focus is emphasizing the need for full 24-hour coverage. He appreciates CMPD's efforts while they are there during peak times, but worries about when they go home.
“The problem I'm having is we get calls at 3 o'clock in the morning,” Hoyle said. “Bars close at 12 and what concerns me is if a girl gets on a boat with a bunch of guys she doesn't feel comfortable with and calls, there is not a lot we can do about it because we aren't out there. ...What we need is to have someone stationed up here that can be in the boat within 15 minutes at the most so when we get the 911 call, we are able to respond.”
Other incidents are late-night noise, reckless drivers, drunken passengers or suspicious activity that the fire boat wouldn't respond to and CMPD isn't necessarily there for. Hoyle recently told town commissioners at least five 911 calls were switched back and forth between CMPD and Cornelius because no one knew who was covering Lake Norman at the time and emphasized the need for performance standards. Not wanting to speak on what he calls a "non-issue," Faulkenberry said that was a communication error that has since been corrected.
“Our philosophy is if anybody calls, we'll respond to it,” Hoyle said, adding lengthy response times of an hour or more are not acceptable and every call could be a potentially life-threatening emergency. “It doesn't matter if it's a big emergency or not. If they are concerned enough to call, we are concerned enough to respond."
To ensure his department is always ready, Cornelius police have also bought a new boat and all-weather equipment, trained officers and set up a regular lake patrol to monitor coves and handle calls.
“We're trying to cover times when Charlotte is not out there or when two boats are needed,” he said, adding he doesn't want people to know when to expect them out there. “On weekends, you can’t have enough boats out there. There is a lot going on.”
Though it takes two personnel off their usual jobs each time they go out, overall safety standards for the town will not be affected.
“The frustrating part of it is we aren't going to cover all of it," Hoyle said. "There are still going to be 911 calls coming with no boats available. It's going to take a cooperative effort between us and CMPD or CMPD is going to have take responsibility for it totally and get people out there. We have to get more coverage on the lake."
Police recruiting citizens for patrol
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Law Enforcement Unit hopes to add more eyes and ears to patrolling Lake Norman through its volunteer group Citizens on Patrol Lake Volunteer Unit. To be eligible, a person must be 21 years or older, have a North Carolina drivers license, pass a criminal and driver history check, take a drug screening, submit a polygraph examination and fingerprinting and complete required training. Ideally, a person should be able to contribute a minimum of 16 hours of service a month for at least six months. Volunteers patrol lakes in uniform and operate a marked CMPD Volunteer Patrol vessel and help with lake events and patrol. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-896-2185.