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N.J. police gain authority on water

New deal means the state’s marine police don’t have to wait around for the Coast Guard

New deal means the state’s marine police don’t have to wait around for the Coast Guard

Even after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, New Jersey State Police Marine Patrol officers in New York Harbor and the Delaware River were legally “handcuffed” when it came to arresting or citing boaters who violated federal maritime safety and security zones. The issue was legal jurisdiction.

Patrol officers could only observe and radio the nearest Coast Guard unit. That frequently presented a problem as the time it would take for the first available Coast Guard vessel to divert from a sector patrol or to launch from the station and arrive on scene could be minutes or hours. Often, in the latter case, the offending party was long gone as was the opportunity to identify them, determine whether the encroachment was accidental, or to collect any potentially valuable intelligence.

Enforcement officers know this is not the right way to conduct the business of maritime security, but the issue of jurisdiction has been firmly entrenched for nearly as long as there have been officers enforcing the law.

All that changed Dec. 16, 2004.

Armed with legal authority from recent Congressional and New Jersey State legislation, and through negotiations between the State of New Jersey and the commanders of both the 1st and 5th Coast Guard Districts, an accord was reached. Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara and Rear Adm. David Pekoske joined New Jersey’s Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, State Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and New Jersey State Police Col. Joseph R. Fuentes and signed a Memorandum of Agreement that authorizes New Jersey State Police officers to enforce Coast Guard safety and security zones.

NJSP Marine Patrol officers welcomed the news.

“Our hands are no longer tied. Before, we couldn’t take any action; all we were basically doing was holding down the fort until the Coast Guard arrived — the cavalry. Now they’re allowing us to be part of the cavalry,” Capt. Al Della Fave told The (Camden) Courier-Post.

The accord was made possible because on Aug. 9, 2004, President Bush signed into law the Coast Guard Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2004, which, among other things, empowers any state or local government law enforcement officer who has authority to enforce state criminal laws to make an arrest for violation of a Magnuson Act security zone, or Ports and Waterways Safety Act safety or security zone, or the Deepwater Port Act of 1974 if such violation is a felony, and the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing such violation.

New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Tim Crowley, a captain in the Coast Guard Reserve, championed only the nation’s second such formal authorization. (The 1st District and Maine reached a similar accord in April 2004.)

“Since the federal and state entities have a shared interest in port security, ‘formalizing’ what has already been a tremendous working relationship and making it more effective can only enhance our port security posture,” Crowley said.

New Jersey’s access to waterways is expansive. The state has 127 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, 109 miles along the Delaware Bay and Delaware River up to Trenton, and 65 miles along the Raritan, Lower and Newark Bays, Arthur Kill, Kill Van Kull and Hudson River.

The Port of New York and New Jersey and the Port of Philadelphia are two of the Coast Guard’s 124 Homeland Security Zones. According to U.S. Maritime Administration’s report, “2003 Vessel Calls at U.S. Ports,” New York/New Jersey saw the third most commercial vessel port calls and Philadelphia the sixth most.

“New Jersey is uniquely on the front lines on the war on terrorism,” said Gov. Codey. “Our ports are great assets to us economically, but they’re also a potential target. This agreement will enhance our ability to protect our citizens and our ports.”

CWO3 Steve Sapp is a chief warrant officer 3rd class with the Coast Guard Public Affairs Detachment New York.