As major cities face financial losses from the pandemic and increasing calls to “defund the police,” Baltimore City’s proposed budget would eliminate the police marine unit.
Baltimore City Council just voted for a budget that cuts $22.4 million dollars from Baltimore Police. Included in the funding cuts is $1.87 million dollars for the Marine Unit and Underwater Recovery Team– Baltimore’s police boat squad that patrols the harbor to the Key Bridge and parts of Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.
The marine unit started in 1860, when police officers patrolled in rowboats. Bay Bulletin’s Cheryl Costello rode along with the marine unit team a year ago on a training day and learned about the wide range of tasks they cover.
Sharing news of the plan to defund it, the marine unit posted on Facebook a laundry list of its duties:
“In addition to the high visibility things we do like stopping speeding vessels and returning lost loved ones to grieving families we also investigate boat accidents, search for missing persons, recover evidence under the water, enforce DNR laws, tow in distressed/disabled boaters, save vessels from dragging anchor and causing accidents, dewater sinking vessels (delaying sinking until private companies can take over). We conduct vessel pursuits, escort VIP vessels and protect high value assets. We also maintain security zones and set up anchorages for special events for people to enjoy like 4th of July.”
Facebook followers expressed disappointment at the loss of the marine unit, one man posting, “This is such a mistake and very sad… BPD Marine Unit saved my boat from sinking and brought my wife and I to safety 3 years ago.”
Another, a resident of Anchorage Marina posts, “We appreciate the fact that they are there to protect an otherwise open area subject to thieves, vandals and clandestine intruders. Many of us live on our boats full or part time…It is foolish to defund them.”
The marine unit often partners with the U.S. Coast Guard and Maryland Natural Resources Police, as well as the Baltimore City Fire Department Marine Fire Rescue.
Bay Bulletin asked Baltimore Police how the various roles of the marine unit would be filled if the program is defunded. Director of Public Affairs Lindsey Eldridge released to us this statement:
“The Baltimore Police Department is committed to ensuring that we work with the city council so they fully understand any and all ramification of proposed cuts to the department. We stand ready to de-authorize services so that we can stay under whatever budget allocation is ultimately approved…Per the direction of the Mayor and City Council, we will look at all options of operations.”
Baltimore City Council’s budget also cuts the city’s six-horse mounted unit, which was founded in 1888 making it the oldest continuously-operated police mounted unit in the country.
-Meg Walburn Viviano