Fairfax County’s 100 miles of shoreline could soon be without law enforcement if funding for the Fairfax County Police Department’s Marine Patrol is not reinstated.
Outgoing County Executive Anthony Griffin’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget cuts $650,000 from the police department, $250,000 of which funds two officers who staff the "Fairfax County Navy.” The FCPD Marine Patrol Unit’s primary patrol areas include the Occoquan/Belmont Bay, Pohick Bay, Little Hunting Creek, Dogue Creek and Belle Haven. They also patrol Lake Braddock and Lake Barcroft.
Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland has fought for continued marine patrol funding in the past, and this year is no exception.
“The elimination of the Marine Patrol would eliminate two police officer positions and would eliminate the police department’s ability to provide law enforcement, emergency and Homeland Security services to Fairfax County’s 99.7 miles of shoreline, including two parks and five marinas,” he stated in a March board matter.
Hyland isn’t the only one who doesn’t want to see the patrol disappear.
Speakers during last week’s Fairfax County FY2013 budget hearings urged the board not to eliminate funding.
Bob Holzman, a representative from the police department's Citizen's Advisory Group, said the unit has saved a number of lives over the years. For now, residents near marinas feel safer knowing that there is law enforcement on the water and in those areas, he said.
H. Jay Spiegel, president of the Spiegel's Landing homeowners association, said that traffic on the water has increased, and that eliminating patrols from Fairfax County waterways would be similar to eliminating patrols from Route 1.
Fairfax County is home to 2,334 registered recreational boaters, said FCPD Captain Richard Perez. “That’s the most registered boaters in [one county in] the state of Virginia.”
The marine patrol operates in educational, enforcement and outreach capacities, Perez said.
“Our pleasure boater community grows on the weekends and on the holidays,” he said. This past year, marine patrol officers made contact with 1,556 boaters. The months of May, June and July are particularly busy, he said.
“Our waterways provide an excellent venue for novice boaters to really sink their teeth into the whole boating world,” he said.
The marine patrol conducts safety inspections for local boaters and checks to make sure boating equipment is in safe working order.
Emergency response and alcohol checkpoints are another vital service the officers provide. Their presence deters boaters from operating their vehicles under the influence, Perez said.
During the busy summer months, the patrol keeps waterways safe by preventing residents from boating while under the influence of alcohol.
The Fairfax County Marine Patrol often assists other D.C. metro area agencies, including the search for a missing rower in October 2010.
The Marine Patrol Unit primarily operates a 35-foot Marlago, which is powered by two 300 horsepower Mercury Verado outboard engines and can travel at a top speed of 65 miles per hour. In addition, the unit also can deploy a Carolina Skiff which can operate in more shallow waters than the primary boat.
Funding for the Fairfax County Marine Patrol is listed as a consideration item for the Board of Supervisors FY2013 budget markup on Tuesday, April 24. Check back with Patch next week for coverage of the meeting.