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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Safety conscious boaters will be rewarded this July 4th weekend

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Safety conscious boaters and their young passengers this July 4th weekend will get a special reward from wildlife officers with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission."Wildlife officers will pass out puzzles or coupons for free fast food to kids under 12 years old that have on their lifejackets," said Major Bill Bridges, AGFC's assistant chief of enforcement.Beginning on July 4, wildlife officers on major waterways will be passing out the free items while supplies last. "We want to reward people for being safe, protecting children and obeying the law," said Bridges. "We would also like to show kids that officers aren't there just to write citations," he added.Corp. Tod Johnson, the 2002 AGFC Wildlife Officer of the Year, started the project three years ago with other officers within his district in Garland County. He conceived the idea while riding in the car with a friend and his 4-year- old son. "He told his kid that if he didn't put on his seatbelt the police would get him," Johnson said. "I asked his son if police were good or bad and he said, 'bad.' I wanted to do something to change that image and show kids we aren't bad guys."His idea worked. "Kids used to be afraid of us when we approached the boat," said Johnson, "now they literally flag us down."The operation was such a success that it went statewide the following year. This year, puzzles were added to the distribution items. "This especially targets kids," said Bruce Cook, AGFC's graphic and commercial artist and art coordinator of the puzzle, "I wanted something that was fun and appealing."Cook developed the idea while flipping through a catalog of promotional items. "The puzzle stuck out to me," said Cook. "It was something kids could interact with and we didn't have anything quite like it," he said.Kids aren't the only focus of a safe boating weekend. A new hands-on operation will train wildlife officers in various aspects of waterway enforcement. "We are going to bring in officers who don't normally work on major waterways to improve their skills in boating regulation enforcement," Bridges said, "They will team up with another officer and work boating that weekend," he explained.They will learn from more experienced officers the common situations that occur on major waterways, how to deal with uncooperative boaters and working boating accidents. "It helps to have a larger enforcement presence on the waterways during the holidays. A higher officer presence helps reduce boating accidents, Johnson said."Our goal is safer boating each year," Bridges added.

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