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DNR officers learn tactical boat skills

NITRO, W.Va. -- A Division of Natural Resources patrol boat sped down the Kanawha River in Nitro Thursday afternoon. Behind it, two smaller DNR boats trailed close to the "suspect" boat as two more held back.

The first boat turned tightly, creating a large wake as the other boats gave chase.

"We're going to be playing the role of the 'bad guy' boat," said David Durfee, an instructor for the National Association of State Boating Law Administration, from the driver's seat of the suspect boat. Beside him, another boat with "Natural Resources Police" emblazoned across its hull pulled within a foot of the vessel.

Twenty DNR officers from across West Virginia participated in tactical training exercises during the agency's training week, which began Monday. The exercises were designed to simulate various scenarios officers could run into on the water, and officers who pass the exam administered Friday will receive a nationally accredited certification within three to six weeks.

Some of the scenarios involved Durfee and the officers riding with him complying with the officers in the other boats; others were tailored to teach them the right protocol for dealing with drunken boaters and with violent or criminal scenarios that can happen on the water.

"Once they get alongside a boat, standard police training comes into play," Durfee said. "A lot of what we've been doing is trying to get them comfortable with dealing with different scenarios."

Officers took shifts pursuing the suspect boat during their training and were even tasked with protecting a barge from a number of threats to give them a sense of what they could deal with in the field, Durfee said.

Lt. Tim Coleman, who arranged the training, said this is the first year the DNR has sought national accreditation, and a $38,000 grant the department received funded the NASBLA training. The West Virginia DNR has 117 law officers, and at least two from each of the six districts in the state will receive the certification.

The DNR will benefit from nationally standardized training in boating safety and tactical maneuvers, Coleman said. The agency previously used its own system for training officers, which, he said, wasn't as comprehensive as the national certification.

"The need for national certification is a lesson learned from Katrina; all of the states were coming in to help -- and they were all doing their own procedures," Coleman said. "The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing. The Coast Guard realized it needed a common training system, which is where NASBLA comes in."

The officers certified this week will be entered into a national database to assist other states after disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

Coleman said the training, though, will benefit West Virginia the most. For large public events along the river and visits to Charleston from national figures, the training will make the DNR ready for any of the scenarios outlined during the week.

"We've had a lot of dignitaries come through here -- the president, Hillary Clinton -- and the first stop they always seem to make is the Capitol, which is right on the river," he said. "You're constantly escorting barges through here; it's exactly like what happens here. The priority is here."

The DNR officers' training this week has been based at the West Virginia State Police Academy, and the agency's tactical boat exercises have accompanied classroom training centered on drug eradication and homeland security.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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