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Barrie police marine unit keeping watchful eye on Kempenfelt Bay

'We’re obviously entering our busy time, June to September, especially with the city’s summer events coming up like Canada Day, Kempenfest and the big air show,' says sergeant
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The Barrie police marine unit patrols Kempenfelt Bay in this file photo from last summer.

Being a city by the bay, water safety is just as important as road safety to Barrie residents and those who visit.

BarrieToday spoke with two members of the Barrie police traffic unit, who also patrol the waters of Lake Simcoe aboard the city's police boat.

With a busy summer season ahead, Sgt. Curt Phillips and Const. Paul Matte say a lot goes into keeping the waters around the city safe.

The unit uses two boats: Marine 1 is a 28-foot Stanley and Marine 2 is a 21-foot inflatable.

While there is no set number of officers assigned to the marine unit, they say there are enough to make sure everyone is safe.

“The marine unit is staffed by the traffic unit. We don't necessarily have the logistics of a set amount of staff,” said Matte. “But at any given time, we are sure to have both the marine and traffic units operate without reduced staff on either.”

The Barrie police marine unit shares lake protection with the Barrie Fire and Emergency Service, with the rule of thumb being firefighters patrol ice-covered waters and police take the reins once the ice is gone.

City police also share Lake Simcoe patrols with four other police services.

“We work collaboratively with South Simcoe, OPP, York Region, and Durham Region to oversee the safety of Lake Simcoe,” said Matte. “Typically, we patrol the borders of Barrie and the others do the same for their borders, but obviously if needed we would go to any call of distress or need for help.”

One would think that being tasked to ride on a boat in the summertime would be the plum job in policing, and while Phillips agrees it can be nice to be on the water, they typically are called upon when it's not a great situation.

“You’d hope that no one needed rescuing, but if they did that it would be a nice sunny day with no wind," he said. "Then you get a call on a day with 80 kilometre-an-hour winds, maybe rain and it's cold.

“Most of the time, you wonder why they are out there, but it's one of those things where bad weather can start at any time, so watch the reports before you go. It's never a perfectly sunny day, that's for sure," Phillips added. 

Matte said it's obviously too rarely in the season to say what kind of summer it's going to be on the lake, but that will change soon enough.

“It's still pretty cold and there aren't as many boats out there as there will be in a week or so," he said. "Our recent temperature reading was about 15 degrees Celsius. 

"Last season, I can’t recall anything too significant, but I do recall a few years back we had a very busy summer, which was followed by one that was very quiet," Matte added. "It really varies for no reason.”

Matte said members of the boating community he encounters out on Kempenfelt Bay are usually pleasant to deal with.  

“Typically, everyone is cheerful and happy to see us out there," he said. 

Phillips said there's no set time during the week when the marine unit is out on the water for patrols, but that it depends on the week and the level of traffic on the lake.

“We’re obviously entering our busy time, June to September, especially with the city’s summer events coming up like Canada Day, Kempenfest and the big air show," the sergeant said. 

The Barrie Air Show takes place June 10 and Barrie police are reminding boaters that on June 10 and June 11, access to Kempenfelt Bay will be restricted while the the popular event happens between noon and 4 p.m.

“We will be out there during the times of the show, a bit before and after, to keep folks out for safety reasons,” said Matte. “We’ll be assisted by York, OPP, Durham Regional, York Regional, South Simcoe, Rama Police Service and the Ministry of Natural  Resources.

"It will be a busy day out there for us and we encourage everyone to just be safe and adhere to the rules we set out," he added.