DUI boating arrests up seven fold in N. Indiana

There is an increased law enforcement presence on northern Indiana waterways this summer, and with it comes an increased number of boater complaints.

“It’s not for safety reasons, it’s not for having to keep in the law,” said boater Kevin Rhoads, “They’re trying to meet quotas or create revenues I think.”

Some of those complaints will be aired Saturday morning at a meeting of the Syracuse Lake Association, with a member of the law enforcement arm of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources present.

“Did we recognize that we were going to ruffle this many feathers?” said Lt. John Karris, with the DNR, “I really didn’t recognize that, maybe I should have.”

Some of the things that boaters are being stopped for don’t seem to pose an immediate threat to public safety, like improperly displayed registration numbers.

“There’s a federal regulation that the numbers have to be a certain number of inches apart, it's a legal issue and they have abide by those, but many of the lakers felt that they were being stopped for that particular reason, to go on to the next step,” said Ind. Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, (R) Syracuse, “They felt that they were being harassed.”

Indeed, a little extra legal boat rocking has produced some dramatic results. The number of drunken driving arrests on the water is up seven fold compared to just two years ago. “We’ve arrested approximately 70-operators that have been intoxicated, so that's a substantial number, prior to that, last year, we were at approximately 30, and prior to that, we were at 10,” said Lt. Karris. “Our goal is to identify those individuals that are intoxicated and remove them from the water but it is difficult to do that on the water. There are no white lines to cross, there are you know the average boat on the water doesn't operate on a straight line so when we have the opportunity to identify an impaired operator and we have to use all the resources we have to remove them and that's what we'll continue to do.”

If someone believes that a conservation officer has acted improperly during a traffic stop on the water, they can file a formal written complaint.

The drunk driving statistics refer to a seven county DNR enforcement district that includes St. Joseph, Elkhart, Marshall, Kosciusko, Miami, Wabash, and Fulton Counties.

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