Bill Douthat / Palm Beach Post – 2004-12-20 23:28:56
(December 17, 2004) — Racheting up its firepower, the sheriff’s office is getting a 30-foot boat with mounted machine guns for homeland-security patrols at the Port of Palm Beach and offshore.
Mounted machine guns are a first for the sheriff’s office, although sub-machine guns are assigned to some deputies in specialized units.
The $163,735 cost of the boat and equipment is being paid for by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is helping to finance security increases at several Florida ports.
“It’s basically a need to be prepared,” said Maj. Dan Smith, commander of special operations for Sheriff Ed Bieluch. “Who knows what we can get hit with.”
Smith said his agency selected a Zodiac inflatable boat with a metal hull for easy maneuvering and boarding for divers. The boat comes fully equipped, including two outboard engines.
The state is also adding a new boat of its own at the Port of Palm Beach as well as two boats each at Port Everglades and the Port of Miami, said Maj. Brett Norton of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. The FWC is the state’s principal marine enforcement agency.
Norton said machine guns are necessary when stopping suspicious ships entering Florida waters.
“You want to be adequately armed when you are alongside a ship so you can take whatever action is necessary to gain control,” Norton said.
The sheriff’s boat is expected to be delivered in February or March. The county commission next week is scheduled to vote on an agreement with the FWC outlining the Zodiac’s use.
The boat will protect the port, cargo and passenger ships and patrol the coastline, according to the agreement. It also will carry divers and bomb experts if underwater inspections of ships are needed.
In a letter to commissioners, Sheriff-elect Ric Bradshaw said he supports the grant.
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