New Kentucky Law Helps Prevent Law Enforcement From Harassing Boaters

The Kentucky State Senate recently passed a bill requiring stricter standards of the state’s law enforcement officers before they stop and board citizens’ recreational boats. It passed out of the senate February 20th on a whopping 35-0 vote, and is now in the House for consideration.

Many marina operators testified before legislators that there’s recently been a surge of boater complaints about officers’ overzealousness. “It’s like running a gauntlet,” said Bill Jasper, president of the Kentucky Marina Association. “The perception is ‘they’re trying to catch me.’ … Any reason they can find to pull you over and then try to see if you’re drinking, is the perception.” He also said that it’s typical for law enforcement officers to be posted at marinas to wait for returning boaters.

The bill would require law enforcement to have “reasonable and [articulate] suspicion” that the operator and crew of the boat had broken a law in order to stop or inspect the boat, setting a greater burden of proof for the officers. According to Jasper, the bill is “asking that it not be a guess.”

Law enforcement is also taking necessary steps to help curb the amount of complaints, too. The department plans to heighten accountability by equipping conservation officers at Lake Cumberland with small cameras, which would be activated whenever a conservation officer interacted with the public. Matt Sawyers, acting commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, told the committee that “This will allow us to cross-reference any … complaint alleging harassment, unprofessionalism or any other concern we feel we may need to look into.”

The bill’s sponsor is Republican Sen. Chris Girdler of Somerset. HIs district includes the region by Lake Cumberland, which is a boating and fishing haven. “We need law enforcement, and there are many good ones, but we just want them to do what is right,” the senator said.

He also explained that the bill will provide important protection for Kentucky’s tourism-based economy in the state’s boating areas. Considering the fact that as of 2009, there were some 12.7 million boats registered in the United States according to the U.S. Coast Guard, such a bill would definitely help bolster the state’s appeal to boating tourists.

Girdler told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “With an industry as large as boating tourism is in Kentucky, we cannot simply sit idly by and allow this harassment to run out visitors.”


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