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Adventures in Law Enforcement

Their beats are somewhat off the usual path, but these law enforcement professionals take care of business.

March 01, 1999  |  by Rebecca Stone

It's no secret that law enforcement is a multi-faceted profession. From small departments, where officers must wear many hats, to the specialists of giant metropolitan agencies, the job offers ample opportunity to sharpen wits- over and over- on a variety of levels.

Presented here is a snapshot look at some aspects of police work and some agencies which may be seen as "nontraditional."

The story here is variety. What makes sense in Southern California may not work in Maryland. Each agency must tailor itself and what it asks of its officers to its size, resources, location and perhaps above all, to its community.

Port Police: Air, Land or Sea

In the Great Lakes states, such as Illinois or Wisconsin, officers patrolling harbor areas are often an extension of the presiding municipal police department. But in many other areas of the United States, harbor or port police are their own entities, apart from the local city department or sheriff's office. More often than not, officers performing law enforcement duties around ports, are sworn and have full police officer powers and responsibilities... and then some.

Port of Seattle

"We handle the same things municipal departments do, but also things they don't do," Lt. Ed Wortman of the Port of Seattle Police, adding that they, however, do often work with other agencies.

Wortman ticked off a couple of examples of work they have done, including a joint operation with a local agency in which a homicide suspect, disguised as a woman, was apprehended at the airport after a ticket agent matched him with a description that had been given to the airlines. It seems the guy's lipstick, nail polish and dress clashed badly. It was enough of a fashion violation to arouse suspicion.

Within the jurisdiction of the port police are Port of Seattle- owned- and- operated properties, including the Seattle- Tacoma International Airport, surrounding properties and major portions of Seattle's waterfront, dominated by the ferry- dotted waters of Puget Sound.

The Seattle department, boasting 98 sworn officers and 19 civilians, including Dispatch, maintains a Criminal Investigations Unit, Bicycle Patrol, Dive Unit, Marine Patrol, Tactical Services Unit, Hostage Negotiations Unit, Bomb Disposal Unit and Dignitary Protection.

Regarding the strengths of his agency, Wortman cited community rapport. "No agency has enough time, resources or personnel to do everything by itself. Our strength is our ability to work with people and interact with our community."

Port of Los Angeles

Officially founded in 1907, the Port of Los Angeles today serves perhaps one of the busiest ports in the nation, accommodating 29 different facilities that handle all types of cargo. Overseeing operations is Chief Noel K. Cunningham, of the Los Angeles Port Police. This agency, with more than 50 sworn officers, claims to have the only police force in the nation dedicated exclusively to port activities.

With more than 7,500 acres to cover, officers patrol the port's environs 24 hours a day and their duties are many and varied. Port officers patrol their jurisdiction by car, bicycle, boat, and helicopter and are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of passengers, cargo and vessel operations.

Integral to the port police is a 12-member dive team that often assists the U.S. Cost Guard in oil spill investigations, accidents and other incidents. Officers also participate in the multi-agency Cargo CATS (Cargo Criminal Apprehension Team). MAST (Marine Anit- Smuggling Team) is another cooperative effort to stem the flow of contraband into the area. In addition, a K-9 unit works to sniff out narcotics among the nearly 2,600 ships visiting the port.

Lt. Ron Boyd, a 20-year veteran of law enforcement, is in charge of Special Projects and Flight Operations for the port police. "Cargo theft is out number one concern as an organized crime problem," said Boyd.

"The primary mission," said Boyd, "is to make sure the port is secure." He explained that within the port area are large industrial components, a commercial component and a small residential component in the form of a liveaboard (people who live on their boats) community.

"Hazardous materials are a growing concern. So many things require special handling," said Boyd, who listed old, liquid petroleum gas, radio active materials, and explosives as top concerns.

Of his line of work, Boyd said, "The thing that's enjoyable is you never know what you're going to get in any one day. There's nothing like it. You could be hovering over a crime scene in a helicopter or recovering bodies out of the ocean."

Port of Charleston Ports Authority

The Port of Charleston Ports Authority Police are licensed state constables with the same authority as state troopers. "We have facilities in five different municipalities," said Byron Miller, public relations manager for the Port of Charleston. "We need to have statewide authority because of all the counties that are covered."

Miller explained that Charleston's approximately 55 port police officers have the same authority as state troopers. Therefore, their authority is not confined to port facilities. In fact, some officers are also deputy U.S. marshals. Said Miller, "We run into situations where we need to board vessels (as in the case of stowaways on board)." He said the extra designation makes it a little easier to carry out these types of responsibilities.

There are four terminals in Charleston and three more in other areas. Officers patrol a total of three different ports, spanning a service area of 1,000 acres of industrial property, 24 hours a day. They accomplish their mission by vehicle, bicycle or on foot and are assisted by computers, including some mobile setups, radar and communications devices.

"Safety and security are our top priorities," said Miller. "We're really careful about this, with $27 billion moving through the area annually."

Miller credits what he calls "exceptionally low pilferage raters" in the port authority jurisdiction to proactive and reactive policing.

The port police are also active in working with other police agencies in the area. "We maintain strong relationships," said Miller. "It's key to successful operations in the marine or waterfront environment."

Crime rates tend to be low. "We've been very fortunate," said Miller. "A lot of other port agencies have problems with vandalism."

He said the key to the agency's success is ongoing professional development. "We want people who are capable and true specialists- not just someone with a gun and a radio."

New York/ New Jersey Port Authority

Founded in 1928, the N.Y./ N. J. Port Authority Police is said to be the 23rd largest department in the country. With more than 1,300 sworn officers, the agency, overseen by Director Fred Morrone, covers a jurisdiction called the Port District, which lies in two states and within a 26-mile radius of the Statue of Liberty. Included in the beat of this large agency are New York's three international airports, four interstate bridges and two tunnels, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, World Trade Center, marine terminals and the PATH interstate rail transit system. Crime has taken a nosedive in many of these areas.

Officers are charged with carrying out regular police duties, both on foot and in Crown Vic cruisers. Other duties call for the use of helicopter or one of several small boats or fielding one of the nation's largest K-9 units. Port police assignments can range from patrolling, crime prevention, investigations, and drug interdiction, to traffic control and emergency first response. A unique aspect of this agency is that of the port police officers assigned to the airport beats, a number are also cross- trained as firemen and EMTs or paramedics.

In fact, the department was recently named Emergency Medical Services Agency of the Year and one of its officers, Lt. Kathy Mazza, was named the Basic Life Support Provider or New York City for 1997.

Quality of life issues, related to the homeless and missing youth, are given a priority in this agency in the form of outreach programs, often centered around bus terminals. Around the ports, themselves (Port Network and Port Elizabeth), officers focus on providing safety for port authority tenants and guarding against cargo theft.

One of the greatest concerns for the department is providing safety and security for those using facilities within the Port District. But Morrone added, "Terrorism, since the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, is always on my mind."

When asked why someone would transfer to his agency, Monroe said, "It's a good job!"

Airborne Law Enforcement: Guidance From Above 

When it comes to performing their duties, the sky is limitless for officers who either double as pilots or serve as airborne officers with a civilian pilot. Some departments have their own airborne division, while others are the result of interagency efforts. Though the operation of such units differs from agency to agency, one thing seem certain: Airborne units help to enhance officer safety as well as public safety.

Tags: Campus Safety, Agency Profiles, School Resource Officers, Illinois State Police, LAPD, Maryland State Police, Helicopters, Special Assignments


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