Although Water Follies has transformed from a rowdy party weekend into a family-friendly event, it still takes law enforcement months to prepare for the races on the Columbia River.
Agencies from across the region work together over the weekend, making themselves visible in parks on both sides of the river and the roads around the area.
Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin said the “high-visibility” strategy has led to fewer arrests in recent years and ensured the thousands of people who come to enjoy the boat races stay safe.
“The bottom line is people are making good choices,” Lattin said.
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Dozens of law enforcement officers will patrol Columbia Park and the Pasco shoreline all weekend, watching for people who are too intoxicated and those wanting to start fights. Authorities encourage people to keep alcohol in the designated areas in Columbia Park and have a sober driver.
Deputies from the sheriff’s offices in Benton and Franklin counties, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, will be patrolling the water. Volunteers also will be in patrol boats.
There were a total of 23 arrests in Columbia Park during Water Follies weekend last year, according to Kennewick police. Citations were issued for various violations, including assault, illegal marijuana and alcohol use, obstructing and lewd conduct.
Ben Franklin Transit buses will be available as well as a taxi pickup area for people in Columbia Park. Law enforcement has made it a priority in recent years to keep traffic flowing in the park after the races so people can catch rides more easily.
Lattin said police do not care if vehicles are left in the park through the weekend as long as they are parked legally.
The Washington State Patrol will have extra troopers on the highways, and there will be an emphasis on curbing drunk driving, said Lt. Tom Foster. A DUI team from Yakima will be in Benton County to help patrol the roads.
The state patrol also will have special technicians to help assist with DUI stops on the roads and boating under the influence incidents on the water.
“Our goal in this whole thing is to ensure the people coming into our area, and those living in our area who want to come out and enjoy Water Follies, can do that in a safe manner,” Foster said.
The biggest concern for law enforcement over the weekend is something going wrong during the air shows or a hydroplane going off course into the crowd, Lattin said. A lot of planning, communication and training go into making sure everyone involved in Water Follies is prepared for a major disaster.
“The key is plan for the worst,” Lattin said. “Luckily we have been fortunate.”
Lattin emphasized that law enforcement officers want people to be able to enjoy the weekend and the races.
“We just want people to have fun, and we are there to help facilitate that safely,” he said.