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A page within RiverWatch

Between 1997 and 2006, La Crosse experienced tragedy after tragedy as 8 separate college students were found to have drowned in the Mississippi River. The deaths, contrary to some "serial killer" theories put forth, were determined to be the results of excessive drinking combined with a close physical proximity to Riverside Park, bordering the Mississippi River. After mourning the last death in the Fall of 2006, Operation: River Watch was established as a tri-campus, community-based public safety initiative created by University of Wisconsin-La Crosse's Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity and Student Association in partnership with Viterbo University, Western Wisconsin Technical College, and the City of La Crosse Police Department. It is currently operated and supervised by the men of Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity, Beta Kappa chapter at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. This program recruits volunteers from University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Western Technical College, and Viterbo University to patrol Riverside Park every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night of the academic year. Due to a City of La Crosse statute, the park closes at 11:00 pm each night, and these volunteers ensure that no one enters the park after hours after the bars downtown are closed. To this day there has not been a single death in the Mississippi River as a result of this program and the collaboration of the La Crosse community.

Every weekend our volunteers come into contact with intoxicated individuals, and often these are individuals who are disoriented to the point where believe they are walking towards their home back in the city when in actuality they are heading straight for the levee. An FBI report that investigated the drowning cases in La Crosse determined that the presence of Operation: River Watch in the community has already saved lives. The program has also been noticed by the local community and by the local campuses receiving numerous awards. Operation: River Watch will continue to operate into the future: if we want to prevent tragedy from occurring again, we must continue to cultivate a drinking environment that values social responsibility. If we want to bring an end to the drowning then people need to take responsibility for their friends when they go drinking downtown and to be sure not to leave them behind at a bar or let them wander off on their own.