After some tough questions and the protests of one member, the board of finance approved a new, more expensive boat for the police department Wednesday.
Police Chief Murray Pendleton recently secured a $520,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security for a new police boat. The grant pays for the cost of the boat and the first three years of maintenance and training for the boat.
“What we are doing today is not adequate any longer to do what we need to do as a region,” Pendleton said. “This program will be the beginning of substantial changes to the old way we used to do business.”
Although Waterford will own the boat, this will be part of a regional effort, Pendleton said. New London police officers and East Lyme police officers will also use the boat to help patrol Long Island Sound and the Niantic River, Pendleton said.
The exact specifications of the boat have not been decided, although it will have infrared sensors, be specifically designed so that it is easy to board other boats and have the capability to hold a dive team, Pendleton said. At an earlier board of selectmen meeting, Police Lt. Dave Burton said the boat would have twin 300 horsepower engines and would be 30 feet long, although that is not final and could be reduced, Pendleton said.
The Representative Town Meeting will have to approve the grant before it becomes official.
Pendleton and Burton, flanked by a Coast Guard representative and one from the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, fielded questions for almost an hour from the board of finance. Board member George Peteros was the most critical of the new boat, and ultimately the only member not to support the grant.
Pendleton explained that Homeland Security identified a weakness in the greater New London area, and is using this money to fix that weakness. Peteros countered that the inability of Homeland Security, along with other federal programs, to stop finding needs is “why we have a massive national debt.”
Other board members were worried about how the boat would affect the town’s budget after the three-year grant expired. New London and East Lyme would help pay for the operating costs, and it would not increase Waterford’s budget, Pendleton said.
If New London and East Lyme refused to help pay for the operational costs, Pendleton said he would park the boat rather than have Waterford pay for the entire operation. However, that is unlikely to happen, Pendleton said.
“This is the new way we are going to do business,” the police chief said. “It is all about getting partnerships.”
Other board members questioned what this boat would do that the current boat cannot do. Pendleton and Burton gave a few specific examples.
The new boat’s infrared sensors will allow the police to find people on the water at night, Pendleton said. Last year, a father and daughter were lost for hours in a rowboat at night after the father drank too much and fell asleep, he said. With the infrared sensors, the police could have located them within a half-hour, Pendleton said.
Having the ability to hold a dive team is important, even though Waterford does not have a dive team, because it can drive other dive teams into Waterford, Pendleton said. Earlier this year, a man committed suicide by jumping off of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, and it took 24 hours to get a dive team to the area, Burton said.
The boat will also have a collar (i.e., a foam ring around the boat) to make it easier to board other boats, Pendleton said. This way, when boarding or coming next to a boat, it won’t damage either vessel, Pendleton said.
“This is an ideal gift,” Pendleton said.
The board of finance voted 5-1 to approve the boat, with only Peteros opposed. Board member Norman Glidden was absent.