Law enforcement officials on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border are gearing up for full implementation of the Shiprider Program, a binational program that erases the border on shared waterways.
The Shiprider Program was announced last year. It will be in full swing this summer on the Detroit River.
The joint program in the Windsor-Detroit area will allow law enforcement officers from Canada and the U.S. to ride together on the Detroit River, patrolling the water and chasing down criminals on both sides of the invisible international boundary. The program is also being used in some parts of British Columbia.
Teams of specially trained and designated law enforcement officers from Canada and the U.S. will co-crew ships originating from both countries.
A number of RCMP officers have been designated law enforcement officers in the U.S. Some U.S. Coast Guard officers have the same designation in Canada. They can perform their duties in either country.
'It's so important we respect the sovereignty of the other country.' — RCMP Sgt. Peter Koersvelt
"We traditionally police our side of the border and Americans police their side of the border. But that doesn’t come without logistical challenges, communications challenges and the ability to move seamlessly and advance investigations of interests to both countries," RCMP Sgt. Peter Koersvelt said. "We would have to stop at the border, call ahead, reach out to our American partners and attempt to have them intercept."
Koersvelt said officers and dispatchers were constantly tracking charts and GPS to ensure law enforcement didn't cross the border.
"It’s so important we respect the sovereignty of the other country," Koersvelt said. "[This] allows the shiprider teams to move across the border and transition lead agencies depending on where the bad guys are going."
For example, if a chase on the water leaves Canada and enters the U.S., the American law would kick in but the Canadian officers would have arresting authority on the U.S. side of the river.
Canadian officers undergo a 10-day training course at the USCG Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, where they learn U.S. law. Americans are trained in Canadian law.
Koersvelt said both Canadian and U.S. officers have the authority to go ashore on each other's country if they deem it necessary.
Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security announced it will pay up to $7,000 each for 30 multi-band radios to be used by Canadian first responders in border cities that share U.S. waterways.
The Shiprider Program isn't necessarily debuting. It's been used under "special circumstances" in the past, Koersvelt said.
A joint marine effort employed in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. A similar program was used in Windsor-Detroit during the 2006 Super Bowl.
According to Port of Windsor Harbour Master Peter Berry, 8,000 pleasure craft use the Detroit River, which is 44 km long and 4 km wide at its widest point.
"Ninety-nine per cent of the people out there are legitimate. The one per cent we’re looking at is [involved in] cross-border criminality," Berry said.
Berry said that besides the RCMP and U.S. Coast Guard, the two agencies involved in the Shiprider Program, there are 26 other agencies patrolling the water.
"In the U.S., if you can name a law enforcement agency, they have a boat and they’re out there," Barry said.
Barry said gun, drug and human smuggling are of particular concern in Windsor-Detroit.
"This is something people should watch for daily," Barry said. "Many operate at night or in the wee hours of the morning," Barry said.