I’m sitting on a boat that used to read, ‘Fire the Police,’ watching another boat whip by in the middle distance at a speed that even to my untrained eye has left the concept of ‘no wake’ far behind.
“Late on the rental,” observes marine patrol officer Ed Stamm. We are docked at the slip the city rents from Pier 81, where Officer Stamm has been outlining the challenges of enforcing waterway rules. The MIPD marine unit is staffed by two full- time and two part-time officers who do double duty with land-based assignments, and pilot a rather smallish boat shared with the Fire Department.
Although the department lacks budget and manpower for a full-scale marine patrol, as Captain Dave Baer puts it, “the bad guys come by boat too; it’s still an important part of policing a water-based community.”
Stopping a boat like the one full of speeding renters entails far more logistical challenges than pulling over a car. One officer, if alone, must keep the police boat from drifting, tie onto and possibly board, the offending vessel in the face of potentially hostile occupants. The formerly land-locked Stamm has gone through extensive interagency training and his job incorporates natural resource management, search and rescue and basic law enforcement.
Stamm has been with the marine patrol for a year and is a universe away from his former life as a homicide detective in Indianapolis, where solving violent crime was the core function of police work. “In homicide, you work for the family, really. You have to speak for the victim,” explains Stamm. The reward of working under the pounding of serious crime came from the closure he could bring to a grieving family. “I still get letters at Christmas,” he adds. In addition to his 11 years in homicide he spent eight years busting drug dealers in the narcotics unit.
MIPD chief Thom Carr worked with Stamm in his Indianapolis days, and Stamm jokes that “knowing the chief didn’t do me any good,” upon his arrival three years ago. He started out on road patrol like any rookie officer. “Seriously though, you have to get acclimated and get a feel for the community.”
“We try to emphasize education over enforcement,” says Stamm. Education being an uphill battle of its own when anyone with a valid driver’s license can pull away from a dock with a six-pack and a handful of boating tips from a rental marina.
“We’d really like to see boaters do things in a more safe manner,” says Stamm. He lists following too closely to other boaters and bow riding as the most common risky behavior. Stamm often conducts safety checks of the boats he stops. “Everyone needs to have enough life vests, flares that are not expired, a sounding device, a fire extinguisher and a throw-able flotation device.”
Stamm, and the other marine patrol officers will be doing a large-scale assessment of boating incidents as the unit reaches a decade of service. “It’s going to give us a big picture; where accidents are occurring and what it means,” says Baer, who is seeking ways to best plug in limited resources.
Stamm truly appreciates the beauty of his work environment and the sheer diversity of situations that arise on marine patrol. He’s been involved in everything from the department’s work of breaking boat-thieving rings to bizarre wildlife encounters. He was on the scene that caught national attention when a leaping dolphin landed in a boat and on top of a female passenger. Stamm sums that afternoon with the wry humor that marks many a veteran of hard-line police work: “The dolphin learned it didn’t like the boat nearly as much as it liked the water.”