UWPD Launches Campus Lake Rescue Program for Boating Season

As the weather changes to usher in boating and swimming season, there’s another change on the water just off the campus shoreline. UW Lake Safety – formerly under the direction of UW Environmental, Health, and Safety – is now UWPD Lake Rescue & Safety, led by the UW-Madison Police Department.

“We saw an opportunity to bring some positive changes to this well-respected and vital campus unit,” said UWPD Captain Brent Plisch, who is leading the unit.

UW-Madison’s role in rescue efforts on Lake Mendota began in 1909 in response to the drowning of two students. Over the years, the service has been involved in thousands of assists and rescues of swimmers and boaters. In 2016, Lake Safety made 631 runs and helped 516 boaters and swimmers – the vast majority with some sort of affiliation to UW-Madison.

“The dedicated employees of Lake Safety have done a tremendous job to keep our campus waters safe for more than 100 years,” Capt. Plisch said. “We’re excited to build upon that track-record, and make the unit even better.”

The launch of UWPD Lake Rescue & Safety takes place nearly a year after the May 31, 2017 death of windsurfer and volunteer Hoofers instructor Yu Chen, 43, who was killed in a collision with a UW Lake Safety boat. Following the incident, at the request of the university, the UW-Madison Police Department conducted an administrative review of the UW Lake Safety program.

The report noted that Lake Safety served in a first responder capacity on Lake Mendota – partnering with other first responder agencies on the water, such as the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and the Madison Fire Department, to promote boater safety.

The report concluded that the unit would operate most effectively under the leadership of a first responder agency, the UW-Madison Police Department. To this end, UWPD has been working for the past six months to implement recommended changes to ensure the new UWPD Lake Rescue & Safety Unit was ready for the 2018 boating and swimming season.

Boaters and swimmers will generally not notice the changes, which are primarily administrative, relating to training, policy development, and the establishment of formal relationships with other first responder agencies.

“As a first responder entity and a triply-accredited police agency, our record keeping, training, and policies are among the best of the best in the nation and we believe bringing Lake Rescue & Safety to UWPD will help accomplish many of the recommendations our review outlined,” Chief Roman said. “We’re excited to bring Lake Rescue & Safety to our agency to continue its legacy and vital lifesaving services on Lake Mendota.”

UWPD’s administrative review will be available once the Dane County District Attorney’s Office completes their review of the Dane County Sheriff’s investigation of the May 2017 accident.

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