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Aerial patrols spot illegal river camps
Police say number are convicted sex offenders
An illegal homeless camp complete with steps carved out of the bank and two boats was located Friday morning by Ripon police First Sergeant Steve Merchant from his departments powered parachute air unit. - photo by Photo Courtesy Ripon Police Department Aviation Unit

RIPON — Illegal homeless encampments dot the Stanislaus River.

And the ones in and around Ripon are being spotted and cleared thanks to Ripon Police Department’s Department of Justice issued powered parachute.

First Sergeant Steve Merchant said Friday’s aerial mission was mainly to observe the rising waters of the Stanislaus River and to look for floating logs and debris that could be a hazard to fishermen and rafters in the rapid current.

Ripon officers have continually patrolled the river banks on foot and in one man quads looking for illegal homeless encampments.  Their intent is to ensure the safety of the local residents who hike and bicycle through the riparian forest and riverbed areas.

In the past the police department has fielded complaints about drifters setting up elaborate camps.  A number of those homeless individuals turned out to be registered sex offenders, police noted.

Officers said they have no idea who these people are until they make contact with them. They don’t want citizens happening onto a camp that could threaten their well being.

Merchant said he found no camp sites on the Ripon side of the river on Friday. There were a couple on the Stanislaus County side.  He photographed the encampments and notified the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s office and the California Department of Fish and Game.

One of the camps had a tent back under an umbrella of trees along the bank with a clearing established.  Wide steps had been cut into the bank where two small Jon boats were tied up that gave the tenants access to the Ripon side of the river.

Police said there is no fresh water available along the banks or sanitary facilities for the illegal campsites to use.

Area residents are being cautioned to avoid entering the river at this time due to the extremely high and dangerous flow rates, cold water temperatures, submerged debris and strong currents that can overpower rafters and swimmers.