GALVESTON, Texas -- If you’re headed to Galveston this weekend, don’t be surprised if you see lifeguards riding around on bicycles – and carrying guns.
Galveston’s Beach Patrol has put eight of its lifeguards through police academy training, making them certified peace officers. While other lifeguards sit in towers and wear bathing suits, guys like Josh Hale are wearing badges on their chests, bulletproof vests on their torsos and guns on their hips.
"They look at us strangely and say, ‘What police force are you with?’" Hale said.
Even though they’re packing heat, they don’t look very menacing. The bicycle patrolmen wear bright yellow polo shirts and carry brochures for visitors. They call their mission "tourism-oriented policing," restricting their law enforcement efforts mainly to warning visitors about laws and ordinances on public beaches.
"We really wanted to target litter," said Peter Davis, the chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. "And we wanted to target glass. And we wanted to target alcohol, sort of the minor infractions that just weren’t getting handled and were kind of overburdening our normal lifeguard operations."
Only two officers patrol the beach at a time, rotating their schedules between patrolling and traditional lifeguard duties. They act mainly as tourism ambassadors, but besides the brochures for visitors and water safety stickers for children, they also carry medical gear for life-saving emergencies.
Visitors lying around the beach are generally an easygoing crowd, so it’s no surprise they generally welcome the bike-riding guards.
"I think it’s great," said Scott Seiffert, who lives in Galveston and often visits the beach with his family. "I know for a long time it wasn’t a family-friendly place when I was younger. And they’ve done a lot to make it that way and it would be nice for it to stay that way."
The Galveston County Daily News contributed to this report.