Marine police keeps public safe on lake

Published 10:03 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It was a typical Fourth of July evening on Lake Martin when officer Brad Harrison began his 16-year career as a marine police officer.

The fireworks had fizzled and the crowds were thinning as Harrison approached a boat without its lights on. A routine check or so he thought.

A glowing, sunburned orange mass was tugging along on a tube float behind the boat hooting and hollering rebel yells and grasping a suspicious brown glass bottle just as another officer shouted for Harrison to fall back.

The mass, a man ‘celebrating’ his country’s independence, was narrowly missed by Harrison’s police boat.

The sight was a memorable experience said Harrison with a laugh.

“You see it all,” he said.

Harrison has been patrolling the waters of Lake Mitchell for three years now. He spends his weekends on the marine police boat in eight to 10 hour shifts watching for overly rambunctious boaters and scoping out the waterfront houses for strange activity.

“It’s a safety issue,” Harrison said. “I’ve been fortunate.”

Harrison began his career almost accidentally when he agreed to go with a friend to the game and fish department to take the marine police test.

Harrison received a call for the job and has been patrolling the waters of lakes ever since.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had and the best one I could imagine,” he said.

The only set backs, he said, are the lack of weekend family time and the temperature extremes. Harrison is decked out in full uniform in the 90-degree broiling sun because, although marine police can wear shorts on patrols, he insists that he “doesn’t look good in shorts.”

He maintains his level of professionalism despite the heat and friendly atmosphere of the lake.

Marine police obey and enforce the same rules as police on the road according to Harrison.

“Our mission statement is to enhance safety and promote responsible use of resources on Alabama’s waterways through enforcement, education and community activities,” said Harrison thoughtfully.

He said that when he pulls boats over in the water he always checks for the required safety equipment.

It’s important to know where everything in the boat is so if a panic situation arises, operators can efficiently dispense life vests or other life sustaining equipment until help arrives, he said.

The county district office holds marine education classes for boat operators and lake dwellers. It has since proven to be an effective method of risk management.

Accident rates have dropped since the push for marine education has been in place, Harrison said.

Still accidents happen.

Harrison urges boat operators to be aware of their surroundings and be responsible and courteous.

“You don’t always know whom you impact,” he said in a true police officer authoritative tone. “We’re here to make sure everyone stays safe.”