I9: Boating While Intoxicated arrests down across Iowa

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- A total of 78 full time Iowa Department of Natural Resources conservation officers cover Iowa's 99 counties. This summer those officers did get the help from 29 seasonal water patrol officers but that still means full timers have multiple counties under their care. And when you consider around 500 boats may be out on a typical holiday weekend just at Coralville Reservoir alone, catching someone boating under the influence can be a challenge.

Just ask, Keanan Shannon, seasonal water patrol officer, and conversation officer Eric Wright. The DNR team of two that was responsible for patrolling Coralville Reservoir, a body of water the size of around 4,100 football fields, on the Saturday morning I9 went along to see how the DNR does their jobs first hand.

"Typically we have more activity on the weekend," said Wright.

Officer Wright will tell you, he has seen it all over the years he has spent behind the helm which includes those who have made the decision to boat while intoxicated.

"If a state trooper or deputy officer in the cities, they know 'okay they're going across the lines.' There's no lines on the water. There's no evidence left other than the wake," said Wright.

By late July at Coralville Reservoir only three people had been arrested this summer for the crime. If you think that number is low, you're not alone.

"There's been fairly heavy enforcement on Coralville itself and we're starting to see the effects of it."

Data obtained by I9 through an Iowa open records request shows BWI arrests at Coralville have been on the decline since at least 2014 when 33 people were charged. The numbers statewide show a similar story, arrests did spike however in 2015 when 47 people were arrested. Fast forward to July of this present year and that number drops to 29.

The consequences for boating under the influence are similar if you are caught driving a car drunk in Iowa but if you get a BWI there is nothing stopping you from losing your driving privileges out on the road. In fact, when I9 searched the names of people charged over the years with BWI we found several who also had OWIs on their record as well.

"To me when I see these low levels, I know my officers, and I know that they're doing their jobs, so that means only one other thing which is people are listening and respecting the waters," said DNR attorney Noah Poppelreiter.

It is Poppelreiter's job to be an expert when it comes to Iowa code as it pertains BWI. At the time of our interview, records obtained by I9 showed a single person was arrested in 2017 for BWI on Coralville Lake. I9 asked Poppelreiter if he believed that was the only person who was allegedly operating a boat while intoxicated so far this summer on Coralville.

"We cannot say for certain," said Poppelreiter. "Does enforcement eliminate entirely the problem of boating while intoxicated? Unfortunately no, I cannot say that."

Back on the water we heard a similar message from officer Wright. The data he believes is proof despite the challenges his department is faced with, current BWI laws are not only working, they're working well.

"Right now I feel we have a fairly good ideal scenario."

The DNR is not alone in their efforts to curb boating under the influence. At Coralville Lake for example there are those tasked from both the Army Corps of engineers and the Johnson County Sheriff's department with patrolling the waters.

Since I9 filed our open records request we have learned of at least one more BWI arrest at Coralvile Lake.