Be wary of the Tisbury police boat


The Tisbury Select Board’s waffling on a proposal to introduce a police patrol boat to Vineyard Haven is unfortunate. The proposal seems more like the town is looking for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist: Arguably, that’s one of the more frustrating sides of local government.

To the facts of the issue: Tisbury Police Chief Chris Habekost brought the proposal to the board at the end of May. The vessel is available from the Massachusetts Environmental Police, to be used in a pilot program for the 2023 summer season. Chief Habekost anticipates paying roughly $1,000 a week for fuel and other maintenance.

According to his proposal, the vessel would be used to support Tisbury’s harbormaster and shellfish departments for emergencies, and to enforce on-the-water regulations. If there’s an emergency on the water, it’s good to have an extra set of hands to help, no doubt. There are no upfront costs to the proposal either, an upside to the idea. 

Chief Habekost argues that increasing the police presence on the water would also improve boating safety and education. Not a bad idea for an active waterfront with visitors possibly ignorant of local waters, and looking to party.

These are great ideas, but there are some issues. An estimated $1,000 a week might not be the most expensive service provided in Tisbury, but it’s not nothing. Government must be able to confidently explain that every penny they spend is spent effectively. This proposal, at least as pitched so far, hasn’t met that bar, because it’s unclear if it’s needed.

Harbormaster John Crocker says he’s been on the water in Tisbury for 17 years, and he said that he’s contacted the police enough times to count on one hand for emergencies. That’s not very many. He’s helped the police department on the water about five times as well.

Chief Habekost says that not all incidents occur when the harbormaster is on the water. At night, for instance, the harbormaster is not on patrol. Habekost says that his department will respond to domestic emergencies on the water when the sun goes down. 

But if the harbormaster isn’t on the water, there’s likely a boat available for the police to use. Perhaps the two departments could share resources.

The chief also points out that a patrol boat could help the Steamship Authority with emergencies aboard ferries. That’d be nice. But the Coast Guard and Massachusetts State Police, each of whom routinely staff Steamship ferries, are more likely to be called upon if there is an emergency on the Steamship.

There’s also been a suggestion that if the police patrol boat saved one life, it would be worth it. That is a fair point. But if we were concerned about saving lives, is a police patrol boat what we should be looking for? Why not hire a paramedic to patrol on the water? 

More importantly, there’s also been no evidence presented to the board, at least publicly, that better lifesaving services are needed in Vineyard Haven Harbor.

There are also resources close by that could help Tisbury. The town of Oak Bluffs — with arguably a much rowdier waterfront — does have a police patrol. They are a hop, skip, and a jump from Vineyard Haven to help in a pinch. The Coast Guard also has a station in Woods Hole. And the Tisbury Fire Department has a patrol boat in Tashmoo that is probably more suited for lifesaving responses.

There is a rational fear that Tisbury might lose some of its charm with too much of a police presence. Select board member John Cahill says that Tisbury is supposed to be a “pastoral community.” That is a fear worth considering. Cahill is the one board member to vote against the proposal. 

But the finances behind the boat are what should make the select board wary. Government officials owe it to their taxpayers and residents to spend money wisely. There are several initiatives and capital projects — like the Tisbury School renovation and addition, or clearing nitrogen pollution from our harbors — that they have or will have to fight tooth and nail to get voter support to fund. A thousand dollars a week might not be a lot, but the perception of police officers on the water twiddling their thumbs when there isn’t much to do won’t help boost confidence in fiscal responsibility. That’s likely why town administrator Jay Grande and the members of the town’s finance committee are not supportive of the idea. 

The one select board member who was supportive of the idea is Christina Colarusso. She recalled an incident when she was a lifeguard trying to save a life in Tashmoo. It had taken the harbormaster too long to get to the area, and she called the police. She also referenced a fight on Block Island that would have benefited from a police patrol boat. 

We should also remind Colarusso that when running for the board, fiscal responsibility was one of her top priorities: “We are constantly losing great members of our community daily due to missteps made in the past, and we need to provide triage to correct the course,” she wrote to The Times prior to the election. “With large capital projects underway and many looming in the distance, we also cannot afford to make any more missteps.”

Having a police patrol boat is a nice idea. But nice ideas aren’t always the best ideas.


  1. As a former Tisbury Police officer I was trained to observe and so when I am in Tisbury and observe 6 or more police vehicle parked in front of the Police station I remember being told that I needed to get out in the public.
    I remember walking Main Street on a regular basis to know the town and the shop keepers. To be a Proactive Police presence to mitigate speeders and there fore mitigate accidents.
    I drive through town now and see expired inspection stickers on vehicles, people speeding, no police presence during the day, minimum during the evenings.
    I know a lot goes on at the station which is state of the art but if I was a tax payor I would be cautious about spending money on equipment when what is there already seems hardly ever used.
    An officer does not have to write tickets but being seen can be a good thing.

Comments are closed.