The county Police Department has announced the creation of a marine operations unit that will help monitor Anne Arundel's more than 500 miles of shoreline and assist with water rescues and water-related emergencies.
The new unit - which consists of a sergeant and one officer - will be part of a combined effort with the county Fire Department, which will share a custom-made powerboat that is being funded through state and federal grants.
"These funds will be used to bolster the safety and security of our residents along one of our most difficult-to-defend portals - our shoreline," said County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican. "We must be active participants in our own security even as we continue to work with the United States Coast Guard and Department of Natural Resources."
Sgt. Jeff Fratantuono, an 18-year veteran and avid boater, has been assigned to the group after operating a 22-foot Boston Whaler assigned to the Police Department's tactical unit.
With the marine unit, he will travel the county's waterways in a 30- to 35-foot boat with an aluminum hull that is being designed. The boat will have monitoring equipment and fire-fighting capabilities on board, and police assigned to the unit will be trained emergency medical technicians.
"In most cases, fire [personnel] and police will be using the boat together," he said. "It's not a police boat, it's a public safety boat."
Anne Arundel County has 533 linear miles of shoreline, more than any other political subdivision in the United States.
In a news release, county Police Chief James Teare Sr. said the unit is not intended to replace or supplement the enforcement efforts of the Natural Resources Police or Coast Guard but to meet "homeland security responsibilities on the bay."
Fratantuono said the unit will be able to respond to different scenarios, from boating violations to terrorist threats.
"Any ship coming up and down the bay is a potential threat, and all those ships traverse the waters of Anne Arundel County," he said.
Officials said police and fire have been working jointly on occasions such as the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, the Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstrations and the Annapolis Fourth of July fireworks show on the Severn River.
"This joint venture not only provides a more comprehensive response to marine and land-based emergencies, it also gives the citizens of Anne Arundel County a more united public safety team," said outgoing Fire Chief David Stokes. "This joint operation will add another tool to the county's toolbox in meeting its public safety responsibilities."