Officer Alfonso Garcia of the Houston Police Department brought a fascinating presentation about the Houston Lake Patrol to the July 16 Kingwood Positive Interaction Program (PIP) meeting. He also brought his boat, all 22 feet of it. Kingwood HPD Officer D.P. Von Quintus opened with introductions of all the HPD officers present.
He said, “I want to introduce and thank Assistant Chief Lopez of Patrol Region One that includes Kingwood and Northeast Houston, our Comm. Terry and Lt. Salazar and our presenter for tonight, Alfonso Garcia from the Lake Patrol.”
“We have two marine units, the Port Patrol and the Lake Patrol,” said Garcia. I am assigned to our Lake Patrol. Pretty much what we do is cover all of Lake Houston on the water. We only deal with the water. If you are out on a boat, you have probably seen us while you were fishing. We are pretty much like a game warden of the city.”
Garcia explained that the Lake Patrol operates from a lakeside facility near the east end of the FM 1960 bridge on the Huffman side of Lake Houston on Stillson Road. The patrol has three 22-foot boats powered by 250-horsepower outboard motors and three “John boats” for shallow water work. He noted the John boats were donated by the 100 Club, a charitable nonprofit police- and firefighters-support organization. In addition, the unit has two 4x4 pickup trucks to tow the boats to other areas as necessary. They have also been used on flooded roads to rescue people.
Garcia said their routine mission is to patrol the lake area and provide a presence to enforce and encourage compliance with boating regulations and safe boating practices. He noted the importance of boaters having proper life jackets, boat and other water craft registrations on hand and the need to be aware of safe boating practices at all times. He warned that BWI (boating while intoxicated) was one of the most frequent violations on the lake in terms of tickets written.
In addition to their daily routine, Garcia highlighted the role the Lake Patrol plays when emergencies occur, such as floods and evacuations. When the water is rising in streets and homes, they participate in rescue efforts using their boats and their big 4x4 trucks to get to those stranded by high water.
Garcia joined the HPD 11 years ago after serving in the Marines. He first worked out of the Northeast Patrol Station as a patrol officer and then for years on the DWI Task Force, working a lot in the Highway 59/69 corridor area. Two years ago he was ready for a change and ended up in Lake Patrol, joining just after Hurricane Harvey.
Garcia said, “When I went to our Lake Patrol, I did not know how to swim. I did not know how to drive a boat. Why they picked me, I will never know. Maybe I smiled good enough. Now I know how to drive a boat and I swim pretty well.”
He explained that the YMCA opens its doors to the Lake Patrol staff and lets them swim every day and practice rescues in the pool.
Lake Patrol is also active in community service with an emphasis on promoting safety.
“Other stuff we do is work with the community,” said Garcia. “We deal with all the drownings. We go to the YMCA and teach the kids safety in water. Who is better to teach safety than we who are always out there on the water? It is completely different when swimming in the lake than in the pool.”
At the close of his presentation, Garcia invited everyone to step outside to see one of the Lake Patrol boats he had towed to the meeting. Based on the many comments made among the group as they walked around the boat, it became obvious why HPD assigned Garcia to the Lake Patrol. He is good and professional at whatever he does and he smiles a lot. He enjoys his job working with the public, which is just what is needed when dealing with boaters enjoying the lake.
The Kingwood PIP meets the third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Kingwood Church of Christ, 2901 Woodland Hills Drive, Kingwood. It is open to the public and all residents are encouraged to attend.