Harbormaster as police officer?
Block Island’s Harbormaster Steve Land, who oversees and enforces boating activities out in New and Old Harbors, may also train in the police academy to become a police officer.
Police Chief Vincent Carlone proposed the idea to the Town Council at its Wednesday, Sept. 4 work session. He said that Land would be trained as an officer and have full police powers. Land’s main job would still be as harbomaster, but Land would also function as a fifth officer, helping the police department out when needed, especially during the winter months. Since officer Tom Pennell left the New Shoreham Police Department, there are four officers on staff, and Carlone said he would prefer five. Carlone added that in the future, he would still like to hire another full-time officer.
“We’re really shorthanded sometimes. One of the biggest benefits is we can use him [Land] in the winter,” said Carlone. “If one of our officers got into trouble, there would be another body that we can call.”
Police officer Paul Deane said that this would also give Land the training to perform sobriety tests on people who are boating in the harbor, which could help monitor anyone who may be boating under the influence.
“If that [a sobriety test] was done one time in June, everybody would be very careful afterwords,” said Carlone, referring to boating under the influence. Being certified as a police officer would also allow Land to better enforce speeding citations on the harbor.
“It sounds like a win-win to me,” said Town Councilor Norris Pike. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with his duties as a harbormaster.”
“I like the concept of this,” agreed Town Councilor Chris Warfel. “But we have to look at the money of this, too.”
There is no tuition fee to train Steve Land in the police academy, which starts in January 2014, Carlone said. However, he would have to be compensated for his time at the academy. In addition, while Land is training, there may be the need for an additional staff member to cover duties at the Harbors Department, especially during the busy time of May. Land’s additional duties would also require a pay raise, suggested Carlone.
Carlone noted that there is money leftover in the budget from Pennell’s salary, who has left the police department. Town Manager Nancy Dodge also said that a general review of the finances didn’t suggest that this would be a significant budget impact.
“One thing that occurs to me is that he [Land] would be able to carry a weapon,” said Second Warden Ken Lacoste. “That would be a major policy change in the New Shoreham Harbormaster presence.”
“I don’t want to change the tone of the harbor,” responded Land, who said that he tries to keep an overall friendly tone while doing his job. Carlone also said that Land would probably not carry a weapon on him at all times, but would be able to keep one in his boat.
“If it [Land being a police officer] fails, the least you will have is a well trained-person on the harbor,” said Carlone.
Warfel questioned Carlone on what would constitute a “failure” of this idea. Carlone responded that it’s too soon to tell what exactly could happen, but one problem could be Land not having enough time to fill in for the police department.
“This is definitely a pilot program,” Land said. “But in the end, we would end up with a safer environment.” Carlone said that he believes most other harbormasters in Rhode Island are trained as policemen.
The Town Council voted 5-0 to endorse the concept of the habormaster undergoing police academy training — with the understanding that there would be an ongoing discussion with the council about this. The council would have to vote on the final decision to allow Land to undergo training and become a police officer. Carlone said that the council has until early December to make a decision.
Also at its four-and-a-half hour work session, the council discussed more than 25 agenda items, which included the following:
Weldon’s Way parking: Discussed was how to potentially create a better parking situation on Weldon’s Way. The Town Council agreed to look at road maps and surveys to better delineate what is town property.
Parking issues in New Harbor: Discussed was the congestion in areas near New Harbor. The council agreed to have Town Road Chief Mike Shea look at intersections around town and report any areas of concern.
New Harbor Boat Ramp: Councilors considered putting a project to build a new boat ramp out to bid. Town Manager Nancy Dodge will work with an engineer to come up with bid specifications.
Ball O’Brien Park project: Dodge informed the council that the work to construct a picnic shelter at Ball O’Brien park is scheduled for this fall. Dodge also reminded the council that the bathroom portion of this project has been put on hold because of a lack of town funding.
Corn Neck dune repairs: After last October’s Hurricane Sandy, the state Department of Transportation repaired Corn Neck Road, which was badly damaged. However, work to repair the dunes adjacent to the road was not adequate according to the council, as the dunes have not built back up. Dodge reported that the Department of Transportation will redesign its plan to rebuild the dunes.
Ocean Avenue paving: Dodge reported that the paving of Ocean Avenue will take place sometime in the spring of 2014.
Wooden guardrails around the island: Dodge said that an individual on island is pushing to replace the current metal guardrails on island roads with wooden ones. Some wooden guardrails on the island have been installed, and the individual is looking at identifying other areas where they can be installed and may fundraise for them, reported Dodge.
Beach erosion on West Beach Road: Dodge reported that experts were expected on island Thursday, Sept. 5, to talk about the erosion that is occurring on West Beach Road near the town transfer station.
Old Harbor Boat accident: In response to a question from Councilor Chris Warfel, Dodge reported that the town insurance has paid its claim regarding an accident that occurred earlier in the summer between the Town Harbormaster and a private fishing vessel.
Towing of Harbors Boat to Newport: In response to a question from Warfel, Dodge reported that a Harbors boat was towed to Newport for repairs because the starter on the boat had failed and could not be repaired locally. The repairs cost $1,600, according to Dodge.
Telecommunications: Discussed was the internet service on the island. The council agreed to have a meeting in October with the town’s Information Technology Director Michele Spero, who would update the council on her work with Verizon and other technology-related issues.
Town bidding process: Councilor Warfel wanted to make sure that the town is properly putting out to bid town projects in accordance with state law. Nancy Dodge said she would provide him with more information on this.
Re-establishing wetlands at Sands Pond: Discussed was Sands Pond, which once had a drainage pipe installed but was removed. The council discussed possibly obtaining a grant to re-establish this drainage and re-create the wetlands around Sands Pond as a result. The council agreed ask for legal advice about this topic.
Port Authority: Discussed was the possibility of establishing a town Port Authority. Councilor Warfel explained that his hope with this position was to gain more of a say at the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Councilors decided to forward this question to the Town Solicitor for advice on whether or not a Port Authority would provide more of a say at the PUC.
Professional evaluation of cell tower income statement: Warfel had a question about the cell tower on the island and how income from the taxes affect the Block Island Power Company. Warfel said that he would draft an RFP (Request For Proposal) seeking an expert to analyze this issue.
Potential use of Town Buildings for housing: Discussed was the issue of providing housing for town employees on the island. The council agreed to take an inventory of town buildings that could possibly be used for employee housing.