Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Nov. 15, 1999

McLeod deputies to patrol by snowmobile

By Gail Lipe

If you are out snowmobiling this winter, you are likely to see McLeod County Sheriff's Department personnel out there with you.

This is the second year the sheriff's department received a grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to participate in snowmobile safety and enforcement.

Sheriff Wayne Vinkemeier addressed the McLeod County Board of Commissioners at its Sept. 21 meeting letting it know the sheriff's department had received $4,590 in grant dollars to help put deputies out on the snowmobile trails. The sheriff's department matches the grant with $5,000.

Detective Wayne Hatlestad coordinates the program for the department. He said 10 full-time deputies signed up for snowmobile patrol hours that are worked above and beyond their 40-hour work week.

"It is in addition to their regular shifts," Hatlestad said. "It does not take away from their patrol or regular duties."

The majority of shifts are on the weekends or holidays and have a minimum of two deputies on duty.

According to Hatlestad, there are over 300 miles of public trails in McLeod County. Some of the trails are state trails, like the Luce Line Trail. Others are county trails, and some trails are set up by the Snow Pros, a snowmobilers' organization.

The Snow Pros have gotten permission from landowners to mark trails connecting communities. It also provides snowmobile safety training and education, and maintains all the trails in the county.

"One thing we are trying to get involved in with the grant, is to assist them in snowmobile safety education," Hatlestad said.

Last year the sheriff's department leased two snowmobiles. With the low volume of snow, it was able to purchase a 1997 Polaris and a 1998 Arctic Cat at the end of the season with the unused funds.

The deputies who cover a shift pick up the snowmobiles from storage in Silver Lake and choose the trails they want to cover that day. On occasion, they will be assigned to special events.

Each snowmobile is outfitted with a hand-held radar unit, a fire extinguisher, road flares, tow ropes, a first aid kit, a radio, a citation book and a stop sign.

The speed limit is 50 miles per hour on the snowmobile trails anywhere in the state. That includes lakes and ditches.

"Speeding is the No. 1 reason for stopping someone," Hatlestad said. "The majority of the time, operators are operating legally and within the limits."

He said the types of things the officers enforce besides speeding include, trespassing or complaints, careless or reckless operating, registration violations, stud sticker violations and youth operators snowmobile safety certificates.

"It is more difficult to detect an operator under the influence of alcohol or drugs because of the helmet and snowmobile suit," Hatlestad said. He said people naturally move different with the suits on.

The deputies set up a stationary patrol. When they detect speeding or careless operating, they hold up the stop sign, identify themselves and position themselves in the trail so the person either has to stop or do something to get around them.

"We expect them to comply, just like a traffic stop," Hatlestad said.

If the person does not stop, the deputies try to follow until the person slows down or stops. Hatlestad said they do not do a high-speed chase. Someone who does not stop is likely to do anything to get away at the risk of injury to themselves or others.

"That is not what we are out there to do," Hatlestad said. "We are out there to assist people and make them aware we are there to enforce."

If someone is under the influence, the deputies will detain them and transport them to a road to be picked up by a patrol car.

The program is used for more than just enforcement. He was out at least three times last year looking for stolen snowmobiles.

"There are many places you cannot get to in a car in the winter," Hatlestad said.

He said education and search and rescue also are parts of the program. A sled is being purchased for the Polaris to pull that can accommodate a backboard so the officers can help with injuries. The Polaris also will be equipped with reverse.

"We are not out to write as many tickets as possible or to ban snowmobiles," Hatlestad said.

The department gets a lot of complaints about snowmobilers trespassing on land. Before there was not much the department could do because the trespassers were gone before the deputies could get there.

With the snowmobiles, the deputies are now able to help.

One weekend a year, a DNR task force comes out and collects data on the use of the trails, the ages of operators, violations, etc. This program allows for deputies to be out on the trails during most weekends.

"There are not always enough people to fill all the shifts," Hatlestad said. "We go with what we can fill."

The 10 deputies involved in the program are, Hatlestad, Al Liepold, Jamie Good, Mat Rolf, Aaron Wiemiller, Gary King, Kevin Mathews, Owen Tonak, Chad LaPlante and Aaron Ward.

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