The Bluffton Police Department has long patrolled nearby rivers but was not able to make arrests or give out tickets.
That’s about to change.
An agreement between the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office — which has jurisdiction over the waterways in the county — and the Bluffton Police Department was approved by Bluffton Town Council earlier this week, meaning the Marine Patrol Memorandum of Understanding is about to become official.
The agreement gives four Bluffton officers “all powers and authority of law enforcement” in waters adjacent to the town that are technically outside of their jurisdiction, according to document. The area includes the May River, New River, Cauley’s Creek, and a portion of the Cooper River.
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Bluffton Chief Chris Chapmond, who had been in the position since Aug. 27, said the department has always been a presence on the river but has never had enforcement capabilities.
“It was more of a safety presence, being out there to ensure boaters that we’ve got some oversight and some capabilities to assist if needed,” Chapmond said. “The (agreement) gives us some enforcement options when they’re needed. We hope they’re not needed, but if they are ... .”
Chapmond said the agreement was “in the works” before he was inducted as chief, but that he and Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner met and decided “this would be a good starting point.”
“It’s about partnerships,” Chapmond said. “The May River plays such an important part in our culture and our lifestyle here in Bluffton that if we can assist the Sheriff’s Office by enforcing boating regulations and dealing with safety issues on our portion, that’s fantastic.”
The Bluffton officers chosen to be a part of the agreement are already trained and certified in marine patrol techniques so will be able to “properly and safely do the job,” Chapmond said.
“I’m excited anytime a partnership flourishes, and the fact that we can work together with any of our surrounding agencies is a good thing,” Chapmond said. “Our community’s issues are much bigger than any one single agency so we have to work together to address these, and the river patrol is a great example of that.”