New Galveston Beach Police Idea: Armed Lifeguards?

Image taken by: Conner Clifton

Galveston beach Tourist Ambassador Joe Cerdas talking to beachgoers.
This summer, the Galveston seawall introduced the T0urism Oriented Policing program. These are essentially armed lifeguards trained as police officers to keep the peace and promote tourism. This service may be on the brink of expansion, which not everyone is happy about.

Joe Cerdas is one of Galveston’s new Tourism Ambassadors. He’s a trained lifeguard who happens to carry a gun. He hopes that’s not the only thing beachgoers focus on.

“I mean, it gives you a little bit of a presence. I would think, you know, a little bit more authority. But I don’t put on this stuff thinking, ‘oh I have weapons’ and I’m going to go around scaring everybody. We keep it real friendly.”

The majority of what Cerdas does is telling beachgoers where it’s ok to consume alcohol. Other than that, he talks to families on the beach, hands out brochures to parents and bracelets and stickers to the kids. Peter Davis is the Galveston Island Beach Patrol Chief. He thinks that because they are lifeguards first, it makes them more tourist-friendly.

“What I’ve told people who work under me to do is the initial contact is always a friendly warning with an offer to give them tourist information. So it’s a very, like I said tourist-friendly approach. The goal is to get people to comply with the rules and get them to come back for repeat visits.”

There hasn’t been an increase in crime; the seawall just hasn’t had a dedicated police presence in nearly a decade. Beachgoers seem to have embraced this new type of policing, which is why they’re looking to expand the program next year through city funds.

Right now, the Tourism Oriented Policing program, or T.O.P, is funded by the tourists who come to Galveston says Dr. Craig Brown, the chair of the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.

“We receive funding from the hotel tax and we receive funding from what they call a beach user fee. It’s when you pay to go into one of the city beach parks and pay for having your vehicle there, that’s termed a ‘beach user fee’”

But Galveston Police Chief Henry Poretto, who was unavailable for comment, said in a published article he’d prefer that money be used to fund a fourth police district to patrol the seawall. It will be Galveston City Council’s decision whether to expand the T.O.P’s budget.

Someone who might not be on board with that is City Councilwoman Terrilyn Tarlton. While a fan of the T.O.P, she believes that the park board should continue to fund it.

“I think the project is an incredible project. I think it’s a great idea, I mean I really do. Do I believe that the park board can fund it under their budget? Yes, I do.”

City Council is due to vote on the expansion September 30th.

 

This story was voiced by Edel Howlin and written by Conner Clifton.