Shores public safety cracking down on rowdy boaters

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 21, 2020

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — Boaters who moor their watercraft near lakefront homeowners and blast music, trespass on private property, or cause other disturbances could find themselves facing a judge in Grosse Pointe Shores Municipal Court.

The Shores Public Safety Department has started cracking down on boaters who are disturbing the peace and wandering around in the yards of residents. Public Safety Department Director John Schulte said that his officers are using a digital camera and telephoto lens to identify problem boaters and their watercraft, and those individuals can expect to get ordinance violation notices.

Drawn to the shallow water and soft, sandy lake bottom, Schulte said, the area around the east breakwall on Lake St. Clair between Osius Park and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House has proven to be particularly popular with boaters, with an estimated 150 to 200 boats anchoring there on weekends. While most of them are respectful and will turn down their music if an officer signals to them from the shore, Schulte said there have been a handful of repeat offenders who are causing problems for residents living on the water.

“Our message to boaters is, if you want to comply with our ordinances, fine,” Schulte said. “If you don’t, you can take it up with the judge.”

Most of the complaints come between the hours of 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., but Schulte said they’ve also had some after dark, around 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. Violators face getting a public disturbance ordinance violation citation, a misdemeanor that comes with a mandatory court appearance and a fine of about $260 for a first offense if convicted, he said. Fines increase for subsequent offenses.

Schulte said the city’s prosecutor recommended charging boaters under the public disturbance ordinance instead of the noise ordinance because the former covers a broader range of offenses and has more teeth.

Schulte said this is a problem that has been “going on for years” but has grown in the last two to four years. With people unable to party as they previously had at bars and restaurants because of the pandemic, he said it’s gotten worse recently.

A violation was sent July 14 to a Dearborn resident who has been the focus of “chronic complaints” from residents, Schulte said.

“The boats that are in violation are so far over (the limit) in decibels, it’s ridiculous,” Schulte said.

One of the challenges Shores officers have faced is that the violators are usually on the water, and the Shores Public Safety Department doesn’t have a patrol boat, so officers have to enforce the ordinances from land.

“The residents who live on Lake Shore (Road) are entitled to as much peace and quiet as everybody,” Schulte said. “But enforcement on the water is difficult.”

The Wayne County Sheriff’s Marine Unit has boats to patrol the water, but, as Schulte noted, because they’re based in Trenton, they can’t get to the Shores quickly. They do have a boat in Grosse Pointe Farms at Pier Park, but that vessel isn’t usually staffed. Schulte said he’s been in talks with Sheriff’s Office officials about possibly staffing that boat. He said he hoped to have more information in time for the next Shores City Council meeting July 21 at Osius Park, which occurred after the July 23 issue of the Grosse Pointe Times went to press.

“With the help of the Wayne County marine division, we’re hoping to saturate more patrols out there (on the water),” Schulte said. “They’ve been very helpful.”

Officials acknowledge that policing the waterways is tricky for other reasons, as well. At a meeting in August 2018, Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski, who is a certified public accountant and attorney by profession, expressed some concerns about whether the Shores would have jurisdiction in these instances, “given that (Lake St. Clair) is an international body of water.”

However, Shores City Attorney Brian Renaud didn’t think that would prevent the Public Safety Department from taking action in these cases.

“Noise pollution … as far as I’m concerned, is trespass,” Renaud said. “It’s really functionally no different if it happens out on the water.”

As far as physical trespassing, Schulte said that because of the way the anti-trespassing rule is worded, trespassers need to be notified that they’re illegally setting foot on private property before they can be charged. He said that notice can be given to trespassers verbally or in writing, so residents are advised to put “no trespassing” signs on their property. If trespassers refuse to stay off or leave the property, Schulte said residents should immediately call the Public Safety Department’s nonemergency line, (313) 881-5500.

“I would encourage them, if they see trespassing, to call us right away so we can enforce it,” Schulte said. “We will certainly take action on any trespassing.”