Undercover Rangers Crack Down On Illinois River Lawbreakers
TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma - Rangers on the Illinois River are going undercover to crack down on people violating river rules.
An estimated 10,000 people are expected to visit the Illinois River this weekend. When Rangers only patrol the beaches they miss a lot. Now they are getting a lot closer to the people who might be breaking the rules.
When you're getting a citation, things aren't as fun on the river. But with so many people breaking the law as they float the river, rangers are staying busy.
“There's the tequila… the Jell-O shots,” Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Capt. Bill James said. “These are real popular these have vodka in them."
Rangers are now able to catch more people breaking the law by putting undercover rangers on the water. James says men and women rangers are wearing swimsuits and taking to the river.
They look just like everyone else, but they are looking for people who are breaking the law.
Rangers could be anywhere.
"My rangers that were floating in plain clothes watched [people] throw containers in the river,” James said. “Aand they stopped and wrote them a ticket for littering the river, and the result of that -- we found their liquor. They had mixed drinks. They had rum. They had Jell-O shots with vodka."
Terrance Collins was waiting on the banks of the river when rangers confiscated liquor from multiple coolers.
“I was wondering what they did,” Collins said. “I saw them taking their coolers. I thought, ‘my first time here.’ I was thinkin it was just because of the beer."
Beers below 3.2 percent alcohol are allowed on the river, as long as it isn't in a glass bottle. Other violations include littering and tying rafts together with life jackets.
"We probably issue 10 warnings for every citation that we write, simply because it allows us to go quickly from one right on to the next," James said.
James said going undercover isn't about being sneaky, it's about keeping as many people as possible safe. With more deaths on the river this summer than in the past three years combined, John Williams says if it works, he's happy.
“They are doing their jobs so I don't fault them at all," Williams said.
Rangers say it's impossible to catch everyone, but said this approach is making a big difference.