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Troubled waters? Not if they can help it

By Greg Smith

Publication: theday.com

Published 03/29/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 03/30/2013 05:33 PM

Groton — Officers from police departments across the region took to the water this week for training aimed at creating a cohesive marine response team.

Members of the New London Port Area Marine Group could be seen practicing tactical maneuvers at high speeds in the Thames River Thursday in one of a number of scenarios posed by instructors.

Groton Police Capt. Steven Sinagra said the training was specific to law enforcement and, along with classroom work, included methods of identifying threats and protecting the region's high-value assets and critical infrastructure. That could involve confronting and stopping a vessel that has breached a security zone.

Complementing the U.S. Coast Guard patrols already assigned to the area, the group expects to respond to service calls in an area that includes the entire Thames River and the coastline between Stonington and East Lyme. Millstone nuclear power plant, Electric Boat, Dow Chemical, the Naval Submarine Base and a number of other potential targets are located in the area.

The weeklong training was conducted by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators to U.S. Coast Guard standards. Standardized training allows the many area marine units to coordinate and function as a group, responding to anything from a capsized boat to a terrorist threat, Sinagra said.

"We've been building this over the past few years," Sinagra said. "No one has the funding for regular boat patrols these days. The whole idea is to have layers — force multipliers."

Five members of the Groton Town Police Department were also testing the capabilities of the department's all-season 27-foot SAFE Boat, equipped with twin 300-horsepower Mercury outboard motors, a fully enclosed cabin and side-scan sonar. The boat was purchased last year with a portion of the $433,000 obtained by the department through a federal port security grant.

Some of that money was used for training, dry suits and defibrillators. The boat is used most frequently in the summer for weekend patrols and local events such as the fireworks display.

"It's a regional asset," Sinagra said of the boat. "If any department needs it, we're here."

Shared assets are becoming a big part of how local police and fire departments obtain federal funding. After the terrorists attacks Sept. 11, 2001, Sinagra said money flowed very quickly to police and fire departments across the country. These days, he said, there is closer attention being paid to where the money is going, what it is being used for and whether or not it benefits a region.

Some recent local examples of federal funding include the $700,000 obtained by the Mystic Fire Department for a fire boat and equipment. The Waterford Police Department purchased a boat last year with the help of a $520,000 in port security funding. The Norwich Police Department several years ago obtained a similar grant to purchase a $230,000 patrol boat.

Groton Town police this week joined officers from Norwich, Ledyard, Waterford, Old Lyme and Fairfield, as well as representatives from Electric Boat security. More training is planned later this year.

g.smith@theday.com

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