Teaching high speed boating skills to law enforcement
On TV, the cops chase the bad guys in cars.
On Commencement Bay this week, the cops have boats and they’re chasing each other.
It looks like fun until boats cross their own wakes or come at each so fast it seems a collision is seconds away.
The 20 students from 11 law enforcement agencies and 14 instructors are in the middle of three days of classroom and water training based at the Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma. The course, called enhanced vessel operator course, or EVOC, teaches officers how to operate their boats at high speeds, pursue other boats and intercept and neutralize threats.
“If you have a high-value target you’re trying to protect, instead of running boats into one another you practice maneuvers to deter them,” said instructor Jeff Norton, assuming the part of the bad guy as he drove a boat past Dash Point at 30 knots.
An Island County sheriff’s boat was in hot pursuit as deputies on board that boat played the part of, well, themselves.
In the distance, the schooner Adventuress had its sails up and a bulk carrier was being loaded at the Ruston Way grain elevator.
Norton, a retired Thurston County sheriff’s deputy, and fellow instructor Hoyle Hodges work for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. The agency is in charge of training all 53 law enforcement agencies in the state that have marine units.
Most of their work is about saving lives.
“If you’re a person in the water, you want that boat to reach you as quick as possible,” Hodges said. “Literally seconds count in those situations.”
Other courses cover boating under the influence, basic marine law enforcement, search and rescue and accident investigation. About half of the roughly 600 marine officers in the state go through at least one course a year, Hodges said.
Water pursuits occur just a handful of times a year in Washington waters, Hodges said. Sometimes a boater under the influence might flee law enforcement. There’s the occasional incident involving drug smuggling.
Coordinating skills and efforts is a large part of the training. It makes it easier and safer for various agencies to work together, Hodges said.
“Typically, you’ll have multiple agencies responding to a major event,” he said.
In response to a plane crash just off McNeil Island in June, at least five agencies sent boats to the scene.
On Wednesday, Norton was showing Thurston County sheriff’s deputies Brett Campbell and Devin Bagby how to intercept a threatening boat.
The training simulated a situation where a terrorist threat or protester boat was getting too close to a high-value target: A nuclear submarine, commercial boat or cruise ship, among others.
Campbell, a marine deputy for three years, was taking his first EVOC course.
“Out here, you get to test your abilities as an operator,” Campbell said. “And you get to test your vessel’s abilities.”
Thurston County shares the boat with the Port of Olympia. The officers patrol lakes in the county as well as Puget Sound.
“You don’t do this on a normal patrol,” Campbell said of the high-speed maneuvers. “You’re just out there making sure everybody stays safe, doing inspections to make sure they’re following the law.”