The Tisbury Police Department is looking to add a patrol boat to its inventory, but town officials are split on a proposed pilot program.
On Wednesday, May 24, the Tisbury Select Board did not make a final decision on the vessel in a three-way, split vote, with board chair Roy Cutrer abstaining, board member John Cahill voting nay, and board member Christina Colarusso voting aye. Board members had concerns about finances, but also about over-policing local waters.
Tisbury Police Chief Chris Habekost presented the idea to the board, saying a vessel was available from the Massachusetts Environmental Police for the 2023 summer season. Habekost said there is funding available for overtime pay for officers and fuel, which are the only costs he anticipates other than incidental expenses like for life preservers or vessel maintenance.
According to the proposal, the vessel would be used to support Tisbury’s harbormaster and shellfish departments enforcing regulations and responding to emergencies, such as 911 calls or search and rescue operations. Increasing the police presence on the water was also presented as a way to improve boating safety education through positive interactions with the community.
Additionally, five police officers received vessel training last year through the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators at Coast Guard Station Menemsha. These officers also patrolled aboard the harbormaster’s vessel in a limited capacity. They are also scheduled to receive more training this year through the environmental police about law enforcement operations.
The vessel would be used primarily around Vineyard Haven Harbor. The patrols would be on the weekends with the boat at the ready in case of emergencies. The chief expects the boat to cost around $1,000 a week to keep in action.
If approved, the vessel would be returned to environmental police; the town could then decide whether it would be beneficial to continue a marine police unit.
Cahill expressed concern about the police presence being too high on town waterways. “We’re supposed to be a pastoral community,” Cahill said. He continued by asking Tisbury Harbormaster John Crocker how many incidents had to involve the police.
“I’ve been doing this for 16, 17 years and I would say I have requested assistance from the police department about five times in that time frame,” Crocker said. “I would say that they requested my assistance about the same number of times.”
Cahill also pointed out that the Tisbury Fire Department has its own vessel at Lake Tashmoo. He asked about the possibility of sharing the vessel. Tisbury Waterways Committee member John Packer also recommended utilizing existing vessels for police operations on the water.
Habekost said this vessel should stay in Tashmoo. A police vessel would allow officers to respond more quickly to incidents, particularly at night.
“We’ve had, on occasion, to go out in the night and the harbormaster is not usually on duty at night,” Habekost said. “And sometimes … It’s an emergency. Whether it’s a boat on fire, maybe the fire chief could speak more on that, or if it’s someone on a boat and having some issue. We’ve had domestic violence on boats in the harbor, in the lagoon.”
Habekost also pointed out that a boat would also allow officers to respond to issues on Steamship Authority ferries. “Sometimes the state police are on the boat and sometimes they’re not,” he said. “Luckily, we haven’t had a major incident on a boat and obviously we would call for assistance from other agencies like the Coast Guard, Massachusetts State Police, but they might not be available as quickly as a resource we would have.”
Additionally, Habekost said people in the community he spoke to supported police being on the water to keep people from misbehaving.
Colarusso cast her support for the police vessel, recalling a time she had to call for police assistance while she was a Tisbury lifeguard at Lake Tashmoo. She said the harbormaster at the time did not arrive fast enough, leading her to contact the police. Colarusso also pointed to an incident on the Block Island Ferry last year. WPRI reported that a brawl took place on the ferry following an event on Block Island.
“I can see both sides, people wanting it or not wanting it,” she said. “I think another asset in town would be great, whether it’s EMS, police, or fire.”
Several town officials expressed concerns about accepting the vessel, pointing out the budgetary process, questioning whether police resources would be spread too thin, among others.
Tisbury town administrator John Grande expressed reluctance since the vessel was not budgeted beforehand. “I get the pilot thing, but pilot things aren’t done based on overtime and outside of the normal budgeting process,” he said.
Tisbury Finance and Advisory Committee member Rachel Orr echoed Grande’s concerns.
Tisbury resident MacAleer Schilcher said he felt the Tisbury Police Department should focus on enforcing and getting more familiarized with the town bylaws and that emergencies on a Steamship Authority ferry can be handled by the Coast Guard. He added this would be increasing the police budget unnecessarily.
Tisbury Waterways Committee member Jeffrey Canha said in his 59 years on Tisbury waters, he has had police on his vessel only three times for disturbances. But, he said the “pastoral nature” of Tisbury is “ever changing” and a police presence is needed on the water to handle potential emergencies. “I’m fully in support of this,” he said. “They will be able to respond 24/7 to the high seas,” he added.
A couple of residents also highlighted the positives of having police on the water, particularly community policing. “I just see it as a real positive, another need for patrolling,” Tisbury resident Lynne Fraker said. “I know with police sometimes people get a little bit scared, but if they do community policing and present it in that way, I think it would be a great benefit.”
After further discussion, again Cahill expressed his disapproval and Colarusso expressed her support, leaving Cutrer with the final vote.
“I’m going to abstain,” Cutrer said, although expressing an openness to support the pilot program. “I don’t think we have enough information financially.”
The board asked Habekost to come back with more information.
As the saying goes, a boat is nothing more than a hole in the water you keep pouring money into. Sounds like a good idea as the taxpayers have plenty of money, and the boat will be thirsty. Break Out Another Thousand does not even apply as this is a government boat so it will be tens of thousands. Every town department wants new shinny toys and as long as the tax payer keeps giving them they will ask.
Such a shame that the Tisbury Select Board still can’t evolve passed the 1960s. There is a huge need for enforcement on our waterways, legitimate safety issues and it doesn’t seem like Harbormaster Crocker has or has ever had any interest in enforcing the rules that taxpayers have voted for. Busiest year-round port on the Island and only thing on the agenda for the HARBORmaster is his cluttered mooring field..
We said no to a 50 million dollar school and now have an almost 100 million dollar one. We say no to a state purchased loaner vessel and what’s next? Not surprised the only board member with foresight of the future is a youngest member by 30+ years.
Let’s move forward, not backwards.
Tisbury has the highest tax rate on the Island mainly from poor management. This boat only adds to more tax burdens.
I’m not a Tisbury resident so I have no say but I will say if this boat were to save one single life it’s payed for.
At an all up cost of $10,000 a year count me in.
At $100,000 count me out.
Everything is limited by cost.
For me the most pertinent fact(s) in this article is the following: ” Tisbury town administrator John Grande expressed reluctance since the vessel was not budgeted beforehand. “I get the pilot thing, but pilot things aren’t done based on overtime and outside of the normal budgeting process,” he said.
Tisbury Finance and Advisory Committee member Rachel Orr echoed Grande’s concerns. “.
Governments have budgeting processes which are in place to protect the tax paying citizens of this town to circumnavigate financial guidelines is a fool hardy adventure on the high seas.
Every police department, fire department, harbor master, shell fish warden, sheriff’s department, county emergency management, fish and wildlife, State Police and Coast Guard must have their own boats, and a backup., None more than six years old.
Only then can we be fully safe and free.
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