The Great Jet Ski Caper

What kind of world do we live in when a poor soul can't even own a jet ski without fear of losing it to thieves and brigands?

When they arrived at the police garage for a routine booking, Prieto opened the car door, only to be knocked down when Franaois violently shoved open the door from the inside. He sprinted out of the garage and ran to a nearby apartment building. As Prieto chased him, Franaois climbed to the second floor, and with his hands still cuffed behind his back, leaped to the ground. Prieto ran downstairs to capture him, and the intransigent Franaois, with his handcuffs now in front of him again, allegedly swung at the cop with his cuffed fists, hitting Prieto in the shoulder. Backup officers arrived and finally subdued him. He is now awaiting trial on charges ranging from grand theft to resisting arrest with violence to battery on a law enforcement officer; his lawyer, Seymour Gaer, declined comment.

There's just something about a jet ski that can make a man do strange things.

The leading bulwark against jet-ski theft in Miami Beach is the police department's marine patrol, and on a recent weekday the two officers on duty, Sergeant Clemons and Officer Johnson, head out for their morning patrol, eyes peeled for trouble. Both wearing sunglasses, the tall, bearded Clemons and the thin, light-haired Johnson seem ready for anything they might have to encounter, from speeders to drunken revelers to suspicious-looking boats.

As they make their way toward Monument Island, just north of Star Island and the site of numerous complaints lodged by irate citizens over boating noise and speeding, it soon becomes apparent that there is almost no one on the water. (It is midweek and rather overcast.) Still, they dutifully undertake their rounds, the boat bouncing along as they talk about the reasons for their devotion to marine law enforcement. "I like being outside," Clemons says. "It's better than driving a Dodge police car."

Johnson concurs: "The worst boat is better than the best police car." Later, when asked about some of the most fulfilling aspects of the job, he replies, "It's very relaxing." Nevertheless, Clemons points out, the job isn't as much fun as it appears to be. Sometimes it gets very hot out there, and other times it rains -- plus they have to clean the boats themselves.

Soon, while passing by Star Island, they spot a crime just waiting to happen: two Yamaha Wave Runners covered by the manufacturer's tarp. "That's telling you the kind of jet skis to steal," Clemons says with some disdain. "You don't need to advertise." Even though they're secured with cable and a heavy lock, Johnson notes, the security devices are attached to the craft via a fiberglass ring that quickly can be sawed off. "It's an easy target," he says. "If those jet skis were put to the side of the house and hidden, they'd never get stolen."

Clemons concludes: "That was a prime example of just how easy it is, and why there should be a lot more thefts than there are." (One Miami Beach Police Department analysis shows that there have been a mere 35 stolen boats and jet skis so far this year within city limits. But other experts, such as marine insurance adjuster Brett Carlson, put the figure as high as 100.)

Bayfront homeowners, though, don't always welcome the officers' safety message. While cruising near 50th Street and North Bay Road, they notice unprotected jet skis on the back lawn of a luxurious home. A dog comes out and barks. Clemons says, "The dog's not going to miss them. They're just waiting to be stolen."

Notes Johnson: "People leave the back of their waterfront homes very vulnerable to crime, and then they wonder why they're victims."

"The dog will go for a steak," making a theft even easier, Clemons jokes.
As they're speaking a man -- presumably the home's owner -- comes out on the lawn. "How can I help you?" he asks a bit warily in a distinctive German accent.

"The back of your house is wide open, and this is a prime candidate for a burglary," Johnson replies. "What you need to do is get a trailer, a little two-wheeled cart, and roll the jet skis around to the side of the house."

"But do you know how heavy that is?" the man says with a puzzled smile.
"If you leave them like that," Johnson shouts before they leave, "I can assure you they will be stolen."

Johnson concedes that using a trailer to move the craft "could ruin the fun of riding a jet ski. Right now you can just throw it in the water and off you go. But if you have it on a cart, you ask: Do I want to hassle dragging it around?" Still, he insists, it's worth doing, and a properly mounted jet ski isn't that heavy.

Clemons adds, "A lot of the people really aren't victims [if a theft occurs], because the insurance companies pay it off and they go ahead and get a new one." In fact, all the paperwork makes many affluent crime victims downright ungrateful when the police do recover their stolen jet ski. They've already reported it to their insurance company. They may have already replaced it. "It's an aggravation," Clemons says. "They don't really want to be bothered."

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