Harbor Unit




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In 1861, MPDC's Harbor Patrol was established as the first specialized police force and has operated continually ever since. What started as a one-man operation expanded in the 1880s to 14 officers under the command of Lieutenant J. R. Sutton, the first Harbor Master. An extract from patrol archives reads, "...the Harbor police are a terror to the wharf rats and river thieves who ply their vocation on the river front. They also patrol the wharves to promptly discover fires thereby preventing disastrous configurations." 

Today's Harbor Patrol consists of 19 well-equipped and highly trained officers and sergeants under the command of the Harbor Master. Though the law enforcement mission remains the same, the Patrol's duties have greatly expanded.

The DC Harbor Patrol is a critical, but largely unknown, part of the Metropolitan Police Department. The Harbor Patrol polices all of the rivers, inlets, and waterways that majestically surround our nation's capital. The 20-member unit encounters the same types of incidents that occur on DC streets including disorderly conduct, loud music, domestic violence, high-speed chases, and robbery suspects.

The Harbor Patrol has immense responsibilities: it oversees the marinas, regulates fishing and game, and makes sure boats are safe and meet safety regulations. The Patrol's main priority is to provide assistance if anyone gets into trouble on the water. The most common occurrences are capsized canoes or boats, caused by high winds, bad weather, or careless boaters. Most of the time, the well-trained team makes an easy rescue. There are a lot of roadways that run right along the side of the river—last year, numerous cars were pulled out of there.  It's the most dangerous job that the Harbor Patrol faces—a rescue from a car in the water. The divers work against the clock and operate a four-man team—the primary diver; a time-keeper, who makes sure there is air in the tanks; a communications officer, gives directions and uses sonar; and a back-up diver, who rescues the primary diver if he becomes entangled.
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A 1926 photo that was colored showing MP DC on the side of the boat.
Harbor Unit
BlackSheep Productions 2009
Some of the members of the old M.P.D. Harbor Unit
Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police
Photo compliments of the M.P.D.
Photo provided by the M.P.D.
Photo provided by the M.P.D.
Photo provided by the M.P.D.
1960's M.P.D. Harbor Officer
I was recently sent these pictures from a former member of the MPDC who worked out of the Harbor. He was there recently for a reunion and saw these.
Members of MPD’s Harbor Patrol Unit recently lent a helping hand to some of DC’s most regal wildlife. On August 7, acting on a call from DC Animal Care and Control about “an eagle stuck in the grating of the Frederick Douglass Bridge,” Officers Rob Caligaro and Stuart Jewell responded. They were able to free the eagle but after doing so, the eagle flew into the path of a truck and was struck. Animal Care and Control arrived on the scene, where they found an osprey (sea eagle) that was unable to fly. After making an initial assessment of the osprey, they determined that it had no obvious trauma or bleeding and appeared to just be dazed. The osprey was transported to a wildlife rehabilitation for observation.

The next day, Harbor Patrol and DC Animal Control collaborated to rescue a juvenile sea eagle that was in distress under the South Capitol Street Bridge (Frederick Douglass Bridge). When the officers arrived on scene, they observed four juvenile ospreys and three adult ospreys flying around. All of them were in good health and none of them were stuck.

Later that day, the previously injured osprey that had been hit by a truck was ready to be released. Once again, Harbor Patrol Officers Calligaro and Jewell were ready to assist and offered to transport Animal Control officers to release the bird directly under the Frederick Douglass Bridge. At approximately 2 PM, the osprey rejoined his brood under the bridge piling. –Photos courtesy Sergeant Troy Jessup and Linda Fabrie