BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – The Lee County Sheriff’s Department has two K-9 officers, is in the middle of transitioning to digital radios, and is now thinking a rescue/patrol boat should be part of law enforcement efforts.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said Saturday that a boat would be a large ticket item and could either be funded with privately raised funds or a mix of funding that could include tax dollars, grants, and private funds.
Depending on the outfitting of the boat, Weber said it would cost as little as $25,000 or as much as $225,000.
“There’s really two options to fund it. We could raise the money and do a cash match through a grant on a really expensive boat. Or we could raise money and buy a less expensive boat locally that would suit our needs.”
Engines and enclosures are the more expensive parts of outfitting the boats. He said a sonar on the side of the boat would also be a big part of the cost, but those are beneficial in looking for victims as well as guns and other items that get thrown into the water.
He said the boat would have to be powerful enough to pull a large boat, such as a pontoon, that could get loose and drift toward the dam in Keokuk, plus the weight of all those on board.
“We’re just beginning to talk about it, really. But we would probably need two engines to give it enough horsepower for something like that. In addition to having the speed to get down there in a hurry or anywhere else where people would need us,” he said.
Currently the Iowa and Illinois DNR have boats that are used for rescue but, depending on where officers are in those regions, it could take time for them to get to the river.
Weber said the boat would be kept locally on a trailer and ready to go at a moment’s notice. All new vehicles purchased by the sheriff’s department are 4-wheel drive so the trailer/boat towing wouldn’t be an issue.
Weber said the boat would also need special ladders or a staging area to allow divers to easily enter and exit from the water. He said the boat would also have to be a size that can handle the powerful current of the Mississippi River, but also back waters, as well as ponds and lakes in the county.
Search lights and a trailer would also be included with the purchase as would on-board communication equipment.
Weber said he feels the sheriff’s department should be in the water when someone is in danger even if the DNR is responding.
“I feel like every time there’s a body in the water, it should be our job to be there, or at least to partner with them. And it would be good to have a presence along the river during events like RiverFest.”
Weber said the transition to digital communication equipment is a priority right now so he didn’t have a timeline on when a boat may be added to the department, but he said he’s been thinking about it since Jan. 3, 2017.
“That’s the date I was sworn in. It’s also the date we had two bodies go into the river and we didn’t have a boat,” he said.
“We’re very excited about it. It’s a section of our department that is so wide open. It only makes sense to start and explore this.”
Currently Fort Madison Fire & Rescue has an airboat, but the City Council approved last week the purchase of a new rescue boat at a cost of about $22,000. Keokuk also has a volunteer rescue corp with a boat that is usually called into service when an emergency happens on the river south of Montrose to Keokuk, in addition to the DNR officers with boats.
“We’ll probably start with some fundraisers and stuff like that. We might put a committee together to help make it happen like we did with the K9 program.”