The Galveston Island Beach Patrol plays a critical role in the development and sustainability of tourism for the island. Years back, there were not as many options for tourists, so millions flocked to Galveston beaches by default. Times have changed and now they have many options. For this reason, it is critical that we as a community maintain our viability as a tourist destination by promoting, improving, and maintaining our number 1 attraction.
The Beach Patrol sees its part in this equation as being “tourism ambassadors”. The first and sometimes only contact a visitor has with a city representative is with a lifeguard. Their first and lasting impression of our community is how protected and maintained the beach is.
Unfortunately, as resources within the city have become more limited, the Galveston Police Department and the Park Board of Trustees have not been able to provide security on the Seawall beaches for a number of years. With little enforcement on these areas there is a danger that tourism could be affected. Additionally an undue burden falls on the lifeguards and lifeguard supervisors who are ill equipped to handle the distraction from their primary duty that enforcement issues present.
The Park Board Police Department augments the operations of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol and fits under the Beach Patrol umbrella. The intent is to expand the capability of Galveston’s lifeguard service and support lifeguard operations by focusing on beach and water related enforcement issues that the Galveston Police Department (GPD) may not have the time, manpower, or specialized ability to address. The Galveston Park Board Police Department is in no way intended to replace any of the duties of the Galveston Police Department, but instead is meant to augment and support the GPD, particularly in their beach and marine duties.
The Park Board Police Department’s duties also include supporting beach tourism and to assist in the protection of the natural environment. The recently created T.O.P. (Tourism Oriented Policing) Program is a subset of the Park Board Police Department that is designed to support tourism by preventing littering, educate the public, and address minor enforcement issues on the beachfront and seawall. Currently two year round positions exist specifically for this program, although the workload of the T.O.P program will be shared between six different people who rotate through these positions. Each of these people will be Peace Officers who are also Open Water Lifeguards, Emergency Medical Technicians, SCUBA certified, Swift Water Rescue Technicians, and Marine Safety Enforcement Officers. The job responsibility also includes training and/or certification in Tourist Relations and Police Bike Operations.
The T.O.P program will run patrols throughout 10 months during the year, which will increase the normal patrols the Beach Patrol Supervisors have traditionally made by 2 additional months. December and January will be devoted to maintenance, special projects, and training. These winter patrols will be done using the Lifeguard vehicles so there will be a duel role of policing and lifeguarding during these times. These patrols will cover the entire 32 miles of beach front, but will be primarily focused on the beach parks and seawall area. During times of high beach use, patrols will be done primarily on the seawall using mountain bikes, but may also cover the sand along the seawall and the beach parks using 4 wheelers. Patrols by T.O.P. officers are not intended to replace or augment the Park Board Beach Security Detail in any way.
When assigned to T.O.P. patrol, during their patrol duties, officers will be a resource for tourists and will give out tourist information as well as educate the public as to the importance to protecting the coastal environment. In addition to their law enforcement, medical, and lifesaving gear, they will carry a tourism “tool kit”. This kit will include brochures about Galveston, water safety information and bracelets, and “gimmies” for kids such as “Clean, Green, and Pristine stickers and stamps. When on bike patrol they will cover the seawall, but will go on the sand when necessary for enforcement or educational issues. If the Galveston Police Department deploys their bike patrol, the Park Board Police T.O.P. officers have the option to patrol the sand on 4 wheelers as an alternative.
As previously mentioned, the T.O.P. officers will be highly qualified in a number of areas. Our intent is to make sure the program is of the highest quality possible in order to enhance the tourist and local experience on the beach. The intent is for the priority to be on education and support as opposed to enforcement. That said, the plan also includes a Field Training Program with the Galveston Police Department. This will improve relations and coordination with the GPD and will allow us a chance to augment their operations while ensuring our officers have the experience and training necessary to handle the enforcement issues that will invariably arise.
At the end of the day it’s all about supporting Galveston by enhancing the tourist experience.
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