SUP Cops: Truckee's Finest, On Paddleboards

For an outdoor town, a mellow kind of community outreach
Staff Writer

When you think of cops, what comes to mind? Crew cuts, handcuffs and speeding tickets, probably.

But what about paddleboards?

In Truckee, CA, near Lake Tahoe, the police department’s Adventure Recreation Community Team patrols on bike, motorboat and, now, standup paddleboard. Expecting frowning, finger-wagging SUPers behind mirrored aviators? Think again. These officers are on the water for community outreach and safety. Operations Capt. Rob Leftwich gave us the details.  

How did the Truckee Police Department come up with this idea?
Paddleboarding is such a huge part of the culture up here. In the summer, there are paddleboards on top of every other car. We thought it would be beneficial to put cops out on the lake to connect with the community, but we wondered if and how we could do it.

Where did the funding come from?
No general fund dollars or tax payer money went into it. Nate [Brouwer, the founder of Tahoe SUP], donated the paddleboards and the training to us. Ronnie Ayers, a professional paddleboarder for the company, taught the officers stroke technique, balance and how to use the boards as rescue platforms.

Have you rescued anyone?
Our only rescues were some swimmers in a triathlon who started to suffer from hypothermia. We haven’t had to test the full capacity of the rescue platform yet.

You carry guns and handcuffs on the water. How does that work?
We didn’t have to waterproof anything other than the radios, which we keep in a waterproof pouch. Rather than the standard duty belt, officers wear a chest harness that contains handcuffs and their badge. They carry a type of firearm that fires even when wet. It sits in a plastic, rather than leather, holder. Flotation devices are also a must, since all that extra weight would pose a problem if an officer got knocked off. The PFD looks like a small fanny pack with a cord. If you’re in the water, you pull the cord, it inflates, and you pop back up to the surface.

How did you choose the ARC Team members?
We wanted young, talented police officers who weren’t afraid to go out and have public interaction and who understood the difference between the things that need enforcement and educational opportunities. The prime example is kids who don’t use lifejackets on paddleboards. It’s better to make this issue an educational opportunity with parents.

What’s next for the Department?
We’ve just started talking about the winter. We will definitely continue with the bikes and we are thinking about putting officers on snowboards and skis in resort areas to continue public outreach.

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