Harbor patrols and scuba units may not be the first thing people think of when they hear
“NYPD,” but Manhattan is an island. All five boroughs that make up New York City are on
the water, so it has a large harbor unit with well over 100 members.
NYPD’s Harbor Unit may be one of the oldest in the country. It was formed in February and March of 1858 to “combat piracy aboard merchant ships and waterfront “thugs’” who were terrorizing the docks. At that time there were 25 members and five rowboats: three to patrol the North River and two to patrol the East River.
The NYPD is responsible for patrolling 146 square miles of navigable waters and 576 miles of waterfront. Its mission is carried on throughout the harbor for the preservation of life, property, prevention and detection of crime, arrest of offenders, preservation of public peace and enforcement of all laws and ordinances.
The Harbor Unit patrols 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — on burning hot summer days and bitterly cold winter days. It rescues people in distress while swimming, overboard from boating mishaps and those who jump from bridges or piers as well as those stranded at sea.
Because of terrorism threats security patrols are maintained off the two major airports, La Guardia and Kennedy International, and have been extended to the waters off of the United Nations Building when it is in session.
Members assigned to the Harbor Unit are selected from regular street patrols. They usually have prior marine experience and knowledge in small boat handling, having been raised along the waterfront or through previous employment in the maritime industry. The officers are specifically assigned to launch crew duty, maintenance and repair functions in the launch repair shop or to the full-time scuba team.
On Sept. 11, 2001, 23 members of the North Cove Marina Harbor Unit entered Ground Zero and gave their lives. A special vessel patrol boat was dedicated in their memory and on Sept. 11, 2003, was christened “23 Heroes.”
Launch repair shop
The NYPD operates its own launch repair shop that handles, along with vessel repairs, the accounting, purchasing, research and development, service, ship chandler and shipping and receiving. Members of the launch repair perform “stem to stern maintenance” on the entire fleet; so along with knowing all the usual police training and skills, they also need to know diesel mechanics.
The scuba team is a sub-unit of the Harbor Patrol that was created in 1966 with six divers. Now there are approximately 30 members, including a lieutenant, sergeants, detectives and police officers.
According to an article in the second issue of SORTIE magazine, getting accepted into the scuba team isn’t easy. Candidates must have a minimum of two years’ street patrol experience and undergo comprehensive written and medical exams. They are required to perform a minimum amount of specific exercises, be able to run a mile in under 6:48 minutes, a 500- yard swim in under 12 minutes and a 25-yard underwater swim wearing a 10 lb. weight belt, a 15-minute survival float and tread water for three minutes using only their feet.
All team members are EMT-trained and proficient in boat handling and maintenance, equipment repair and helicopter operations. The NYPD scuba team is one of the only full-time law enforcement dive, rescue and recovery teams in the country. The team is divided into four squads that alternate 12-hour shifts, tackling everything from airto-sea helicopter rescues to scouring sewers for explosives.
Their domain includes all five boroughs and the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, murky canals, lakes and rivers. They patrol bridges, dive in intake pipes and sewers and even aided with the recovery of TWA Flight 800. They retrieve criminal evidence and have even played a major role in counter-terrorism activities.