A number of small coastal towns in Ocean and Monmouth counties are investigating the feasibility of a plan to create a shared services program that would allow each municipality to contribute to the costs of a marine policing effort on local waterways.
While some larger municipalities such as Brick Township have police departments with full marine divisions, smaller towns rely on the New Jersey State Police to provide on-water law enforcement. While a major barracks for the NJSP’s Marine Services Bureau is located along the Point Pleasant Canal in Point Pleasant Borough, the state agency is tasked with providing a response for the entire length of Barnegat Bay (there is also a smaller station in Waretown) as well as offshore duties, plus accident response.
With a marked surge in the popularity of boating in the years since the pandemic, and the proliferation “dock and dine” tiki bars on both sides of the Manasquan River, some officials believe the state police has been stretched too thin, and a local presence would serve as a deterrent for intoxicated boating as well as more simple stops on the water for dangerous or illegal activities like failing to adhere to No Wake zones, blocking navigational channels, or bowriding.
“I had thought about this four years ago, and why we didn’t necessarily have something like this,” said Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Paul Kanitra.
Recently, Kanitra said, he was approached by Brielle officials about forming a shared services agreement in which local towns would pool their money to purchase a proper police boat and share manpower. The operators of the police boats could, potentially, consist of special officers who would not necessarily take full-time officers off patrol duties and could operate at night when there is not normally a significant law enforcement presence.
“We have a lot of people recreating on our waterways in Point Pleasant Beach, we have the water taxi that goes back-and-forth between Brielle and Point Pleasant Beach, plus Red’s Lobster Pot, the Patio Bar, a lot of places that have alcohol with people eating and drinking, and then driving away,” said Kanitra.
The idea has been shared among officials in Brielle, Point Pleasant Beach, Point Pleasant Borough and Manasquan. Brick Township officials were also consulted, though as mentioned, that town already operates its own marine police division.
It is highly unlikely such an agreement could be ironed out for the upcoming summer, but Kanitra said the borough’s police chief has an interest in the program and feels it could be worthwhile in keeping the busy Manasquan River and inlet area safer for boaters.
“We’re going to have some conversations to see how viable this is, and maybe we could put together a package to see if we could get enough money to buy a boat, fund the first year of service and rotate officers among the four towns,” Kanitra said. “Obviously you don’t need someone out there at 3 in the morning because nobody’s out there, but there could be a designated window, and if it’s shared amongst a handful of towns it might be something we want to look at.”
Those in support of the program see it being utilized on a seasonal basis, likely between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. There is also the potential to pitch the idea to the state, which is currently using grant funding to encourage more shared services between towns.
“The state DCA [Department of Community Affairs] is giving a lot of money for new shared services, so I think there would be a good opportunity for the towns that were interested in it to go from there,” said Kanitra.
“Having the ability to respond quickly, especially with the limited capacities of the State Police, is a good reason to explore this,” he reiterated. “Enforcing drinking and driving on a boat is important, as well as respecting the maritime laws and making sure it’s a safe experience for everybody.”
A handful of small municipalities do operate police boats locally. Mantoloking acquired a retired U.S. Coast Guard vessel in the years after Superstorm Sandy, and Seaside Heights purchased its first police boat last year, and was quickly credited with multiple rescues of boaters in distress. The Ocean County Sheriff’s Department also operates law enforcement vessels.