Security, safety or harassment?

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When does a program in the name of security or safety become harassment? It’s a question being asked on Lake Erie and, I suspect, elsewhere these days. This summer has seen a dramatic increase in boardings by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Border Patrol and it’s starting to turn adversarial. “It’s outright harassment of boaters,” wrote Jack Hern in response to a recent local newspaper article about the growing anger of area boaters.

“I , too, have been stopped twice in the last 30 days -- once by the Coasties and then by the Border Patrol with their three big Mercs, and all of them armed!” 

The Coast Guard, along with local law enforcement agencies, has been stepping up their patrols along the Lake Erie coast as part of an operation dubbed the ''Northern Border Initiative'' with the Ohio Department of Homeland Security. The stated goal of the project, using $2 million in Homeland Security grants, is to protect Ohio's open border with Canada. As a result, boardings have increased 52 percent this summer compared to last summer. Boaters, for example, have been stopped by the Coast Guard Station at Lorain, Ohio, an area where boaters have become very vocal about their displeasure. It’s like running a law enforcement gauntlet just to get out on the Lake, claim the boaters.

Local business leaders are speaking out, too. 

The Lorain Morning Journal reported on local businessman Lee Howley who told Coast Guard officials: ''In my 50 years here, I haven't ever seen so much damage to the community. You've taken the pleasure out of pleasure-boating.'' Bill Schaeffer, owner of Beaver Park Marina, added, ''The boating industry has enough problems. Boating families shouldn’t be harassed in the name of security or safety. There’s no question these actions are hurting our business,’ he added.

There's a big difference between presence and aggressive enforcement. No one has a problem with seeing the Coast Guard or Border Patrol boats on patrol. But a lot of people are feeling hassled and threatened by the constant boardings without cause and, in many cases, multiple times. It’s creating an “us versus them” feeling between boaters and the authorities. That undermines efforts to have boaters report suspicious activity to the Coast Guard or Ohio Homeland Security in its ''See something, say something” program.

As dealers, we must be aggressive in standing up for our customers when actions are being taken by governmental agencies, even normally friendly ones, which negatively impact the right to peaceful use of our products. Stopping and boarding and re-boarding pleasure boats in an aggressive random manner may be within the law but it is hardly justifiable in the name of either national security or safety.

That’s how I see it, how about you?

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