Hans Huenink does not hesitate at all before jumping into the pool at Stephens College. Wearing a now-soaked T-shirt, khaki pants and tennis shoes, the Hartsburg resident quickly starts swimming laps with the other 44 men and one woman wearing the same outfit.
For the officers in the Missouri State Water Patrol, this exercise is just part of the job. Every year, water patrol officers from around the state participate in a week of in-service training, including one day of water exercises and defense tactics.
Standing in dry clothes and pacing along the deck, Capt. Paul Kennedy crosses his arms across his chest and looks out at the bodies splashing like fish in an overcrowded pond.
“We’re just like the Highway Patrol, but on water,” he says, not taking his eyes off his officers. Members of the water patrol have the same powers as any state law enforcement officer, but their main duty is to police the many miles of waterways and lakes in Missouri.
“We’ve elevated our training this year because we’re seeing so many assaults on the waterways with our officers,” says Kennedy. “We felt it was important to give them the tools to combat that if it happens to them.”
New drills include searching with blacked-out goggles for “evidence” (weighted dolls) at the bottom of the pool; underwater handcuffing; holding a baton and a gun (fake, for now) above water while treading water for minutes at a time; and being tackled from a simulated boat into the water.
“Getting taken into the water with someone on top of you, that kind of messes with your head a little bit,” says Lt. Erik Gottman, his shoes squishing with chlorinated water.
Despite the strenuous drills, the officers’ moods are buoyant as they cheer for the biggest belly flops and joke with each other on the deck.
But after more than four hours in the pool, officers started to show signs of fatigue.
“Just being in the water, it’s completely different than doing those things on land,” says Diana Jacobson, one of two women out of 94 officers in the patrol. “It takes a lot out of you.”