Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Mike Burgamy, Department of Natural Resources Sgt. Supervisor for Lake Lanier, speaks to Gwinnett County police officers during a training session on Friday afternoon. The Gwinnett Police Department will being patrolling Lake Lanier.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- The job of pulling over a boat isn't entirely unlike the job police officers do every day, pulling over cars, except the lane changes may be more tricky.
"We're looking for the same thing you are on the highway. We're looking for open containers, the smell," Mike Burgamy, the sergeant supervisor for Lake Lanier for the Department of Natural Resources, told about 60 Gwinnett police officers during a training course to allow the cops to help patrol the lake.
The partnership begins this week, as part of an effort to step up safety in the popular waters of Lake Lanier, less than two weeks after the deaths of brothers Griffin and Jake Prince, who died in a boating under the influence collision.
"We're here as a team. I'm ecstatic about you guys coming to work with us," Burgamy told the officers, who have volunteered for overtime duty to help out during holidays and special events this summer.
While the state agency is limited in manpower and the county police force does not have the equipment, the pairing allows for a doubling of the force out on the lake. On the Independence Day holiday Wednesday, officers are also set to do boat ramp checks and road checks to handle the large crowd.
"When you have 3,000 or 4,000 boats out there at the same time, all leaving to go home, it's scary," said Val Perry, a lake resident who watches the annual fireworks display from his dock instead of braving the waters.
As the police training began Friday, Perry and another advocate with the Lake Lanier Association met with a commissioner and two legislators over lunch to discuss the safety issues at Lanier.
State Rep. Josh Clark, a Buford Republican who lives along the waterfront, co-sponsored legislation to lower boating under the influence limits to match driving under the influence limits earlier this year.
But he said Gov. Nathan Deal's call lower the limit to 0.08 gives him hope that the change will be approved next year.
Solving the overall issue of safety, though, could be tricky, the leaders agreed, since legislators will be cautious about infringing on personal freedoms or harming the area businesses.
"I think to stand by and not do something is just wrong," Commissioner John Heard said. "I just wanted to start a dialogue with the elected officials and the lake people to see what's reasonable to make things better and safer."
The group talked about the possibilities of requiring licenses or at least some education requirement to buy or rent a boat. The possibility of asking DNR to send out a decal on right-of-way rules to be posted in watercraft caused excitement.
And Perry said the Lake Lanier Association's campaign to increase the full pool level of the lake by two feet could help with the issue of trees and other obstructions under the water, which created a treacherous search for Griffin Prince's body.
Enforcement, though, is one of the biggest issues, the leaders said.
That is why Heard talked to police officials in the spring about partnering with the state agency.
"We think it's a win-win," Assistant Police Chief Tom Savage said of the partnership.
Officers will not be pulled off the streets for the duty but instead will be paid overtime for the work, he said.
"It's a whole new arena of law enforcement for us," Savage said. "It's a great benefit for our officers to learn something new, earn a little extra money and have a safe environment."