SCPD (344)It is a beautiful spring day, and we have just arrived at the Suffolk County Police Department’s Marine Bureau (SCMB). The headquarters is located on the outskirts of a public golf course in Great River, a small South Shore town on the Great South Bay. This is not your typical Police headquarters, and the Marine Bureau Officers are not your typical Police Officers.

SCPD (1786)The entrance of the building is adjacent to the dock and the wide open bay, where we are greeted by Officer Robert Cappadona. Our guided tour begins as he points to the fleet of boats, most are similar to the one pictured on the cover of this magazine. They are “Safe Boats” and are used on the water in the same way a patrol car is used on land. Deputy Inspector Ed Vitale tells us “this is a unique command; we’re here to protect the ‘jewel’ of Suffolk County and the people and community that surround it.” He gestures towards the view from his office, open water and the vast stretch of the barrier island, Fire Island. He doesn’t deny that he is thrilled to have been assigned to this post.

As much as these officers appreciate the beauty of the environment in which they work, the Great South Bay and Fire Island area is a huge responsibility because of its size, the large population in the summer and difficult accessibility to some areas all year round. Their patrol area extends three miles past the bay into the ocean and all the way out to Riverhead on the South Shore. They are also responsible for the open water on the North Shore from Huntington to Port Jefferson. On both shores, they ensure that people enjoying these waters are safe from harm and danger.

Given the volatility of the open sea and Mother Nature, they must be prepared for the unexpected. “Subject to quickly changing tides and weather conditions, boaters are susceptible to great danger if they’re unprepared or become nervous about how to cope with the situation.” Cappadona contin- ues, “The water is a place of isola- tion, and under the right conditions, boaters get disoriented. Things can go wrong quickly.”

SCPD (1404)A predominant issue for the Marine Bureau is Boating While Intoxicated (BWI). BWI’s are a large threat in the summer months, creating dan- ger for the intoxicated boaters and those surrounding them; there is a major effort being made to patrol for suspicious driving and reduce the incidences of BWI’s. The Ma- rine Bureau Officers have seen too many unnecessary accidents, and even fatalities, because of people operating watercraft while intoxi- cated. “It’s not as easy to spot an intoxicated driver on the water as it is on land,” says Vitale. “You have to know the signs.” Prevention is key: One should never drink alcohol while operating a boating vehicle; sadly, consequences can be fatal.

The Marine Bureau was called to the scene last year when a speed boat, driven by an intoxicated indi- vidual, drove right into a privately owned fishing boat and killed a man who was smoking a cigarette on the back of the boat. The two people in the speed boat did not have any life threatening injuries; however, the driver of the boat is currently serving a 35 year to life sentence for his irrevocable actions. This is a heart-wrenching situation, and the Marine Bureau Officers— being people first—are clearly upset just recalling the incident.

The Marine Bureau also has a SCUBA team consisting of 11 divers, trained for different aspects of the job: rescue, evidence recovery, and providing assistance to the Coast Guard. Additionally, the team is responsible for helping people who accidentally drive into the water from ramps, bridges or land. You may recall the 92-year- old woman who was recently rescued from her submerging car.

The Marine Bureau doesn’t just patrol our waterways: On land, they serve the Fire Island community, a 32-mile stretch of community with approximately 430 miles of coastline.

During the summer months on Fire Island, the Officers manage crowd control and are visibly on patrol to ensure safety and deter crime.

Scuba (758)Suffolk County Police Officers must apply to become a member of the Marine Bureau. If the application is approved, the Officers undergo three weeks of intense marine boot camp, where they are trained in every capacity, for any emergency. “We have to train for everything,” says Vitale. “Even if it’s something we don’t do on a day-to-day basis, we are always prepared.”

The Bureau usually trains 20 officers at a time. Officers qualify based on passing physical challenges, demonstrating adaptability and flexibility in performing a variety of duties, and a personality that engages and enjoys being involved with the community.

Today, the water is calm, and the Safe Boats on patrol are looking to lend a hand or perform routine boat checks for life preservers and other mandated safety equipment. We feel confident knowing that they are trained and ready to enforce safety, provide assistance or perform rescue missions when needed.

Inspector Vitale invites us to visit again as he reminds us, “we want people to enjoy the wonderful resources and recreation that this beautiful island provides. We are here to minimize any cause for harm or danger and help people stay safe while they are on vacation with family and friends.” Here’s to a wonderful spring and summer.IMG_3366

Stay safe, have fun, and be confident that the Marine Bureau is close by if you need them! ENJOY!