Hagg Lake hosts marine training for Oregon law enforcement
Jerry Roley has spent more than half of his nearly 20 years in the Washington County Sheriff's Office as a marine deputy.
"I prefer this to patrol work, but that's just me," Roley said, gripping the wheel of one of the sheriff's two patrol boats as it motored across the smooth waters of Henry Hagg Lake.
On a sunny Wednesday morning, it wasn't hard to see why.
"It's something different. You're out on the water. You're dealing with happy people that are happy to be on the water," remarked Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy Jerad Bearson. "It's the ability to do our job while doing something which we love."
"The majority of our contacts are always positive as well, which is always a nice change," added Oregon State Trooper Zac Cochran.Roley loves the outdoors and he enjoys driving the boat; in fact, he said, he boats recreationally even when he's not patrolling county waters at work. But the Washington County marine deputy, who spent much of the past two weeks training fellow deputies, state troopers and intertribal police officers from around the state in basic aquatic policing techniques, also understands the gravity of his job.
"The environment is just as deadly as the people you might come in contact with, so you could fall overboard and just literally drown and that's it, not even contacting anybody or anything," Roley said. "The water itself is your enemy too, if you're not prepared."
Roley and other instructors guided less seasoned law enforcement personnel from across Oregon in training on how to maneuver a motorboat, how to perform a water rescue, and how to deal with fellow boaters in various scenarios, including both crises like a boating accident and everyday procedures like a routine check that a fishing guide is carrying proof of license. They spent the first few days of the training, which starting Tuesday, May 1, at the Forest Grove Aquatic Center. The last three days, from Tuesday, May 8, to Thursday, May 10, were centered on Hagg Lake.
"They're being tested on their boat-driving skills and their scenario skills all at the same time," Roley said of the trainees, who came from nearly 30 different law enforcement agencies.
In some cases, students were simply asked to apply skills they have long been practicing to a marine situation, such as conducting a field sobriety test on a Multnomah County sergeant role-playing as an injured, possibly intoxicated boater. In others, they were thrust into entirely unfamiliar situations, including trying to swim to the surface while laden down with utility gear after jumping into the deep end of a pool.
Roley said the idea behind the training is to provide marine law enforcement personnel with essential know-how for doing their jobs.
"If you get bad habits early, you'll keep them forever," he remarked.
Some parts of being a marine deputy are more difficult than you might expect.
"Anybody can drive fast and steer the boat," said Roley. "It's driving slow, you know, bringing somebody in like this."
He explained, "If you can drive really slow and have great control over your boat … that's where the money is, because that's where you could cause damage."Hagg Lake is a good training site because it's fairly quiet much of the time, Roley said. But activity on the lake spikes dramatically when the weather is hot, especially on weekends, he noted — and while Hagg Lake is the largest lake in the Tualatin Valley, it's not the only popular spot for recreational boating.
"The Tualatin is becoming a highly used river," Roley said. "It's becoming busier and busier by the day."
River boating and swift-water rescues aren't something that this month's training course in western Washington County covered. Roley said additional training sessions for Oregon's marine law enforcement newcomers will be held, including sessions on the Rogue River this summer and on the Clackamas and Sandy rivers in Clackamas County next winter.
"You can't teach 'em all on such a short amount of time, but we try to get as much in as we can," Roley said of this month's training.
For students like Bearson and Cochran, even though they have some experience in marine law enforcement and describe themselves as lifelong boaters, trainings like this are valuable.
"A lot of this should be trial by fire, too, because you can't reproduce every scenario you're going to find in a training scenario, you're going to find out on the lake or river," Bearson said. "But this gives you a good, broad example of things we would face."
Marine law enforcement training in Oregon is officially conducted by the Oregon State Marine Board. In the case of this month's training, Roley said, the Washington County Sheriff's Office hosted and took the lead role in organizing the course.
Roley himself is a multiple-time award-winner for his work as a Washington County marine deputy, with the Oregon State Marine Board recognizing him several times as its "Deputy of the Year."
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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