Why is the Monroe County, NY Sheriff’s Department Trying to Put a Towboat Operator Out of Business?

By Davy V.

Like many hard working Americans, Captain Jake VanReenen is trying to make an honest living.

In 2010 VanReenen, 24, opened up TowBoatUS in Rochester, NY.

Capt. VanReenen lives aboard a boat in the Genesee river, where he monitors a VHF band radio, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the boating season, for calls of disabled vessels.

But, VanReenen says, the Monroe County, NY Sheriff’s Department Marine Unit is making it nearly impossible for him to stay in business.


By interfering.

Not just with his business.

But with a well established maritime code.

According to VanReenen, when it comes to marine assistance, the United States Coast Guard has a very well written policy.

If a boater has an issue, say they run out of gas, and they don’t have a TowBoatUS membership, (the equivalent of AAA for motorists), they may use their VHF radio, and the call would go to the US Coast Guard.

The USCG will then do an assessment of the situation, to determine if it’s an emergency, or not.

If the USCG determines that it’s the latter, they will then monitor the situation and act as a marine operator, providing the disabled mariner with the option to contact a commercial salvage company, which in Rochester would be TowBoatUS, or the USCG can issue a “MARB”, which stands for Marine Assistance Request Broadcast, asking for any good Samaritans to help the boater in distress.

But VanReenen says that the Monroe County, NY Sheriff’s Marine Unit is not respecting that policy, which exists in waterways, and ports throughout the U.S.

In fact, last winter Captain VanReenen worked in Miami Florida, where he says, the Mami-Dade Police Marine Patrol does not interfere with boating tow services when it comes to non-emergency calls.

“In Miami, they would sit there for an hour and talk with the boaters as they wait for the tow service to arrive, but they will not interfere”, said Captain VanReenen.

Captain VanReenen says that most of the time, as soon as a disabled boater hits the radio, the Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies swoop right in, completely ignoring policy, by not letting the US Coast Guard do their job, and costing him thousands of dollars in jobs lost.

VanReenen says what ends up happening is that deputies will come in to a non-emergency situation and assist boaters by towing them in, and he says the situation is getting so bad, that he’s having trouble staying afloat.

Now, some may say that they don’t see a problem with Monroe County, NY Sheriff’s deputies assisting disabled boaters, for free.

Captain VanReenen couldn’t disagree more.

“If your car breaks down on the highway, the Monroe County, NY Sheriff’s department, or any other law enforcement agency won’t get you gas”, says VanReenen, adding “They won’t tow you, so why should they do it on the water, in a non-emergency situation?”

“Boating is a luxury”, Captain VanReenen says.

“If you are going boating you should be prepared and not rely on the Monroe County Sheriff’s department to help you when you run out of fuel or have a dead battery. They are there for law enforcement and search and rescue. Not to act as a towing company. Is Monroe County educated on Admiralty law? They are assuming all risk when they take a disabled boat in tow. They are not properly trained. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Marine Unit does not hold USCG Captains licenses and overall, have poor risk assessment. They are using tax payer money to compete and put a tax paying company out of business.”

“Why should the tax payers of Monroe County have to pay for some guy who owns a $200,000 boat, who didn’t want to spend $ 67.00 for a yearly membership that would have covered him?”, says VanReenen.

I have to say I agree with Captain VanReenen.

Just last week, it was reported on Rochester news that Monroe County, NY topped the list of “Financially Stressed” counties in New York State, and Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks is already talking about possibly raising taxes by 28 percent.

With such news reports of Monroe County being financially stressed, I think Monroe County taxpayers should at least know that the Monroe County Sheriff’s department is spending thousands of dollars weekly, in fuel costs, cruising around in pricey, state of the art boats outfitted with three 300 HP engines.

And there you have it, Monroe County, NY taxpayer dollars at work.


Videos above:

VIDEO 1 : Captain VanReenen hails to a Monroe County, NY Sheriff’s boat who is towing a boat.

The Monroe County, NY Sheriff’s deputies ignore him.


VIDEO 2: A Monroe County, NY Sheriff’s boat follows Capatain Jake VanReenen, and myself on the Genesee River.


VIDEO 3: A Monroe County, NY Sheriff’s deputy tries to make small talk with Captain VanReenen. Watch as I ask the deputy if he has any comment.


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Davy V.

Davy V. is a Cuban-American Filmmaker, Video Producer, Photographer and Freelance Writer, best known for using the power of video and film to expose Police Brutality, Corruption and Misconduct. The son of the late Mario Vara, a community activist who for years fought against Police Brutality and Misconduct in Rochester, New York, Davy V. got his start in Television and Video by tagging along and working camera for his father's cable access television show, "La Voz Del Pueblo" (The Voice of The People). Davy V. later went on to produce and host "KEEP IT ON THE REEL", a cable access TV show with a mix of Hip Hop as well as issues affecting African-Americans and Latinos in Rochester, NY, such as Police Brutality and Misconduct. Some guests on the show included Treach, KayGee and Vinnie of Naughty by Nature, Method Man, Funkdoobiest, Da Youngstas, and the Rottin' Razkals. Davy V. won the U.S. ACM Video Festival Award for his Documentary, "R.P.D. EXPOSED!" about the Rochester, New York Police Department and their long history of misconduct, corruption and unnecessary killings of unarmed innocent citizens. "R.P.D. EXPOSED!" and Davy V.'s follow up, "R.P.D.: Badges of DISHONOR, CORRUPTION and MURDER!" were both screened at the National Hip Hop Political Convention at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. Davy V.'s work has been featured in publications such as THE SOURCE Hip Hop Magazine, URBAN AMERICA Magazine, The Ave. Magazine, Insider Magazine, La Voz Newspaper, Minority Reporter Newspaper, CNY LATINO Newspaper, DOWN Magazine, as well as on television news stations, and programs such as CNN and Inside Edition. In addition to his freelance writing, Davy V. also writes a monthly Op/Ed Column for LA VOZ Magazine and Minority Reporter Newspaper. In June 2012, Davy V. joined Cop Block as a regular contributor.