2012-02-16 / Front Page

Panel OKs police patrol on harbor

Board approves $2,000 for officers to ride along with harbormaster this summer

Police will be paid to ride along regularly with the harbormaster this summer, the Harbor Commission decided at its Feb. 8 meeting.

Police Chief Ed Mello asked the harbor commissioners for $2,000 to cover 40 hours of police detail through this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The panel agreed, although everyone did not see the need for police presence.

“Why are we spending money to create this police presence?” Harbor Commission Chairman Michael de Angeli asked. “It does strike me as above and beyond.”

Although he has his concerns, de Angeli said that he would go along with the recommendation from Sam Paterson, the harbormaster. “Sam thinks it’s a good idea,” de Angeli said, “and he knows better than anybody.”

Mello also requested an additional $10,000 to keep police on the boats through the summer, but the panel held off on that decision. Instead, the commissioners opted to take a second look at the issue and see how the police on the boats were working out before the commissioners committed to extending the police presence for 200 hours.

Town Councilor Bob Bowen, liaison to the harbor panel, said he would look into the payment options and see if the $10,000 bill could be split between the Harbor Commission and the Police De partment. Bowen said he thought the panel should OK Mello’s initial $2,000 request, “see how it’s going,” and then revisit the issue.

“I think it’s a reasonable request,” Bowen said. “We do have a lot of incidents here.”

The ride-along would not be a first for Jamestown, Mello said. The officers have occasionally gone out with the harbormaster in the past, usually to help with big events. Two major events are coming to local waters this summer, Mello noted. First, the America’s Cup World Series comes to Newport from June 23 to July 1. Then the Ocean State Tall Ships Festival arrives July 6 to July 9. Both events will increase traffic on the waterfront, Mello said. Mello added that he and Paterson will work together on the schedule, so the officer will be on board nights and during special events.

But when the commissioners asked Mello to specify the police problems he anticipated, Mello maintained he was primarily trying to improve relations between officers and boaters, not write a lot of tickets. Currently, police seem “disconnected” from the boating community, which is a large part of the Jamestown population, he said.

Paterson backed the chief’s request.

“We’ve done this in the past,” Paterson said. “We take an officer out during a special event.” Paterson acknowledged many of the harbormaster’s tasks are not police related, however, but he said some problems do involve law enforcement.

Harbor Commissioner Ed Mc- Guirl said he supported the police chief’s request, but the other commissioners wondered about the need.

“Do we think we have an issue that needs police more than the Coast Guard provides?” de Angeli asked.

Harbor Commissioner David Cain also questioned the need to expend funds for police officers riding along with the harbormaster. Why come to them for the money, the commissioners asked, and not use Police Department funds.

Mello said billing the other department was standard practice. For example, if he put an officer in the schools, he would charge the school department for the bill.

After a debate, de Angeli said he was “on the fence” about police accompanying the harbormaster. He had pointed out violations are already being handled either by the Coast Guard or the state Department of Environmental Management.

When Mello replied that both agencies are “spread thin,” de Angeli asked him, “Do you actually see yourself enforcing shellfishing regulations?”

“No,” Mello replied, “but we could be a witness for DEM.”

Mello also said a police officer could write a ticket for boating while intoxicated, and Paterson cannot.

When de Angeli asked how Paterson handled drunken boaters, the harbormaster said he referred the case to the Coast Guard.

Cain asked how many times Paterson came across an impaired boater.

“Not very often,” Paterson replied. But he said that there are “other things out there I deal with, and just the presence of an officer improves the respect people give you along with listening a little better.” Paterson said the police on the boat would be an asset in law enforcement situations.

“It would be real nice to be out on the weekend and have someone riding along with you,” Paterson said.

Bill Munger, owner of Conanicut Marina, said he hoped the commissioners would continue the debate.

“I think it really deserves further discussion,” said Munger, who attended the meeting and spoke up when de Angeli asked for opinions.

“I don’t see the bang for the buck to have two guys in one boat,” Munger said. He suggested putting police in a second boat on the water might make better sense. Munger also said Paterson has been a “good ambassador” for Jamestown and he’s handled potentially difficult situations by talking with people.

“I don’t know of many issues in recent times that really require arrest,” said Munger.

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