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Take the plunge, they’ll find you

Bainbridge Deputy Police Chief Mark Duncan leaps from the new 33-foot police boat at Queen City Yacht Club in Winslow. The $647,000 vessel is rigged with numerous rescue and crime-fighting gadgets, including a digital camera with telescoping lens, viewing screens that, on Monday, captured infrared images of a state ferry and three low-emission, four-stroke engines. The custom-built boat began patrols around Bainbridge two weeks ago. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Bainbridge Deputy Police Chief Mark Duncan leaps from the new 33-foot police boat at Queen City Yacht Club in Winslow. The $647,000 vessel is rigged with numerous rescue and crime-fighting gadgets, including a digital camera with telescoping lens, viewing screens that, on Monday, captured infrared images of a state ferry and three low-emission, four-stroke engines. The custom-built boat began patrols around Bainbridge two weeks ago.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

The new police boat boasts the latest in high-tech gadgetry for rescue, recovery.

Bainbridge police really like the way their new boat looks.

But it’s not so much the brushed aluminum body or the glistening row of four- stroke engines. It’s not even the cush interior or glowing command center of fancy computers.

“It’s how it can look two or more miles away in pitch black and still find people at night in the cold water,” said Deputy Police Chief Mark Duncan as he piloted the 33-foot vessel in Eagle Harbor Monday.

For all its high-tech and high performance amenities, the cyclops eye on the boat’s roof will likely give police the biggest boost.

The remote control lens serves as a combination of high-powered telescope, infrared goggle, and digital cam-corder.

Lt. Bob Day, serving as co-pilot, zooms in on a state ferry.

In his computer screen, heat-producing sources glow in sharp contrast to their surroundings. The ferry’s smokestack appears capped by a massive campfire while passengers, nearly invisible to the naked eye, are shown strolling the vessel’s decks.

“We can’t see through walls or anything but we can spot people who’ve fallen overboard from far-off,” said Duncan. “It takes away the madness of searching with binoculars in the dark.”

It can also capture boaters doing shady acts under the shade of night.

“We can see what people are up to, whether they’re throwing things overboard or being negligent,” Duncan said. “And we’ll have it all on video.”

The boat was recently purchased with a $647,000 federal Homeland Security grant and is in its second week of service.

With no required matching funds, it was gift almost too good to be true for some local officials. The City Council in late 2005 almost denied acceptance of the grant, expressing concerns Bearing a striking resemblance to the U.S. Coast Guard vessels that occasionally escort state ferries, councilors suspected the feds were using the free boat as bait to draw island officers into anti-terrorism patrols.

“The politics made me want to tear my hair out,” said Day, who spearheaded the grant acquisition effort and insists that the boat comes with no strings attached. “In the world of federal grants, this one was unique. It had no cash match and it was just the (government) ponying up with free money so we could do our mission.”

That mission has little to do with terror and much more to do with helping recreational boaters who’ve bumbled aground, run out of gas, broken free of their anchor or are in the throes of other mundane emergencies.

That’s why the boat also comes with a tow line and winch and is outfitted with three radio systems for compatibility with other emergency responders.

The boat is also equipped for tougher missions. Its hull design makes for quick and easy turns at high speed, whether police are chasing down a suspect or weaving through a boat-clogged harbor to save a captain suffering a coronary.

Below deck are two berths for transporting injured people.

“If an earthquake hits or the bridge is out, we’ll still be able to get people over to medical facilities,” Duncan said.

The boat was custom built by Port Orchard-based Safe Boats International. The company supplies the Coast Guard with its ferry and Seattle waterfront patrollers and has produced models for the Seattle Police Department, the Swedish Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps.

Made with a patented hull design, the new Bainbridge police boat is tougher and rides much smoother than the vessel it replaced, according to Day.

The combination foam and aluminum hull is bilge-less, air tight, includes pressure-tested air chambers and is self-bailing.

“The difference is beyond night and day,” he said. “The boat’s got a lot of gee-whiz bang electronics, but it all boils down to the hull for me. The old boat, if it hit something, it’d sink. But this one, it’s like a bobber on a fishing line. It could even fill up with water and it won’t sink. That’s important because if we get into trouble, we’re no help to anybody.”

Unlike the previous boat, which the department will likely keep for training purposes, the Safe Boats’ smoother ride, even at 50 knots, won’t pound police into a pulp.

The sealed cabin, reduced engine noise and spring-loaded seats also help over a long shift.

“Spend a day in the old boat,” said Day. “The rocking, the vibration, the heat, the cold...it really has a cumulative affect on your endurance and can take a toll on your ability to be aware, observant and focused on the task at hand.”

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Boat show

The Bainbridge Island Police Department’s new police boat will be on display for public viewing at Saturday’s Boater’s Fair at the city dock in Waterfront Park. The event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For a full event schedule, see www.kitsapcoastguard.org.

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