The City of Tonawanda Police Department, like the shark-hunting crew of the film “Jaws,” decided it was “going to need a bigger boat.”
The department took delivery of a new 27-foot-long vessel in June and showed it off Wednesday during a blessing behind City Hall. It replaces the department’s 21-foot-long boat.
“That boat was nice, but we do have a very large dive team – underwater scuba team – and that boat just wasn’t big enough to handle the diving and the law enforcement,” said Lt. Scott Sheehan, who led the department’s efforts to procure the boat. “This vessel here is much bigger, much wider and with the twin Mercury motors on it you can see it’s much faster.”
The $200,000 boat manufactured by SAFE Boats International in Seattle was mostly paid for by a $139,500 port security grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and proceeds from the sale of the department’s previous boat and two police personal watercraft, city officials said.
Equipped with side-scan sonar to view underwater, radar to track nearby boats and a thermal infrared camera to see in the dark, the aluminum boat will be used for rescue operations and joint work with the U.S. Border Patrol along the Niagara River.
“This new boat will enhance our border security and safety both domestically and internationally,” said acting city Police Chief William Strassburg.
The customized boat is already in service and will patrol during Canal Fest, which begins Sunday along the Erie Canal in Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, Sheehan said.
Boats from across the area typically line the canal during the popular weeklong festival, which has many water activities scheduled.
The city has “a responsibility not only to our taxpayers and our residents but also anybody that’s visiting for a safe boating experience,” Mayor Ronald J. Pilozzi said.
Some boaters have complained in recent years about the plethora of local, state and federal agencies patrolling waterways and conducting stops. But Sheehan said they all have different missions.
“We’re out there for the safety of our residents that patrol our waterway – the jet skiers, the family boaters, the tubers the water skiers – that’s what we’re equipped to handle,” Sheehan said.
SAFE manufacturers only military and law enforcement boats. Sheehan and Lt. Jamin Butcher, certified marine officers, were flown to Seattle in June to review the boat before it was trucked to Tonawanda and docked in the Little River at Smith Boys Marina.
“It’s designed to be in rough waters,” Sheehan said. “It’s designed to handle any type of things that you throw at it. It’s not your typical recreation boat.”