Falmouth police procure state-of-the-art vessel

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FALMOUTH — It may not be evident at first glance, but what could be the most technically advanced police boat in Maine is stationed at Town Landing.

The Police Department’s new harbor patrol boat is a $327,000 vessel the department procured thanks in large part to a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The grant made the boat far less expensive.

Harbormaster Alan Twombley said the department will typically respond to calls ranging from Harpswell to Cape Elizabeth, generally within the Casco Bay area. Falmouth’s anchorage, where Twombley estimates he spends 90 percent of his time, contains more than 1,100 moorings, and is the largest anchorage in Maine, according to the town’s website.

“We got the grant in part because (Homeland Security) appreciates we help other communities,” Twombley said.

Assistant Harbormaster Ken Walberg said the boat’s interior, which is a closed cabin, unlike the previous boat, contains a number of advanced technology systems.

It has a device that can pick up heat signatures of people in the water; an advanced navigation system and automatic course plotter that maps out hazards; a multi-unit communication system to connect with other agencies, and a radar system that can help in recovery missions.

The 27-foot boat also has a fire hose attached to the front. Falmouth Police Chief Ed Tolan said staff will eventually train firefighters to fight fires from the boat. Additionally, an onboard computer can link to the Police Department’s computer system, and the state’s system, to check identification and registrations.

“We want to know who we’re dealing with out on the water,” the same as with regular patrols, Walberg said.

Twombley said the system also lets officials check for warrants while they’re out on the water.

Twombley said the new boat is much faster than its predecessor. He said the town’s previous boat could go fast “in perfect conditions,” while the new boat is built to handle difficult situations. He said the fact it is designed to handle inclement weather and rough seas is its best feature.

“(Falmouth) will be a first responder in all types of weather,” Tolan said at Town Landing last week.

Twombley went on to say the vessel is probably the most advanced harbor patrol boat in the entire state.

According to Tolan, the new boat was built by SAFE Boats International, a company that builds similar boats for the military, as well as federal and local law enforcement agencies.

Tolan said $250,000 had been allocated in the capital budget to replace its aging vessel in 2018. The Homeland Security grant became available two years ago, but Falmouth was initially turned down because the application did not meet requirements for a first-responder vessel.

The town applied again and was awarded the $224,000 grant for local communities last fall.

The department was able to sell the old boat for around $48,000, meaning the cost to the town for the replacement was $55,000. Tolan said the funds were taken from the capital budget, with the remaining balance going back to the town.

Part of the requirement for the grant was, the department would have to help neighboring agencies, both local and federal. The boat has already assisted the U.S. Coast Guard in searches: the department has helped a woman who fell off a boat, and someone who was stranded on Clapboard Island.

Local searchers also assisted the Portland Police Department in the search for Matthew Foster, the Scarborough man whose body was found last week in Portland harbor.

“It’s a great asset,” Tolan said. “It should last the town at least 15 to 20 years.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Falmouth’s new police boat, which was largely paid for with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, allows the Police Department to be a first responder in almost all types of weather.

With its advanced communications, navigation and sonar systems, as well as the ability to handle adverse weather, Falmouth Harbor Master Al Twombley said the newly acquired vehicle may be the most advanced harbor patrol boat in Maine.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.