The Newtown Pentacle

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Note: This “Maritime Sunday” is a repost of “Stronger than Fear” from September 12, 2010

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Superman do?

This governing logic which demands that one draw a line and say “No more” compels some to step forward and personally form a barrier between law and chaos. To leave behind the mundane, don a colorful uniform, and fight for truth, justice, and the American way.

Such men and women that display this sort of behavior may often found in the employ of the NYPD, and one elite unit of that inestimable organ of the municipality is the redoutable NY Harbor Patrol.

Witness 2 generations of their patrol vessels, plying the estuarine tides of the River of Sound– commonly known as the East River to modernity.


The Defender class comes standard with full cabin to protect the crew from weather and an independent forced air diesel heater, both of which provide the crew with the maximum amount of comfort and minimal fatigue. The Defender has the direct benefit of years of evolutionary USCG Non Standard boat history to maximize its operational availability. Just one sea trial will prove that the Defender Class is unmatched in performance, work ability, fit, finish and quality.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Batman do?

The job of these amphibian officers is to protect and patrol the harbor of New York, assist maritime travelers experiencing mechanical or existential trouble, and to enforce a strict security cordon around the archipelago. In the age of the terror war, the strategic patrol of waterfront infrastructure and detection of multi national sapper units (called terrorists) has been added to their list of duties.

This is the NYPD unit that once was originally formed out of a bunch of beat cops in 1857 who, with a rowboat, were tasked with busting up a gang of river pirates called the Swamp Angels that operated out of an open sewer on Cherry Street in Manhattan. Today, Harbor unit is an elite and coveted posting.

An already impossible patrol area coupled with decades old technology and an expanded mission has demanded a few upgrades to equipment, and the acquisition of some “wonderful toys”.

from wikipedia

Commanding Officer of Harbor Unit – Deputy Inspector David Driscoll

On March 15, 1858, five members of the New York City Police Department rowed out into New York Harbor to combat piracy aboard merchant ships lying at anchor. The NYPD Harbor Unit has existed ever since, protecting life and property. With hundreds of miles of inland waterways to cover, the unit operates 27 boats from three bases.

For underwater work, the department used to contract with private diving companies when weapons or other evidence had to be recovered from the bottom of New York’s many rivers and waterways. In the early 1970s, however, the Harbor Unit formed a specialized scuba team that today numbers around 30 officers. Unlike many police dive units, whose members dive only part-time, NYPD divers are assigned to the unit full-time. (The exception are some scuba-trained officers in regular patrol units who are detailed to the team temporarily during the busy summer months.) In addition to the normal duties of evidence recovery, the Scuba Team’s mission has expanded since 9/11 to include a counter-terrorism role. For air-sea rescue work, the Harbor Unit keeps two divers assigned to the Aviation Unit 24 hours a day, seven days per week, all year round. These divers will work with their counterparts in the FDNY, who arrive at incidents by fireboat or rescue company.

image from wikipedia

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Iron Man do?

I admit it, these safeboats that seem to be multiplying all across the harbor are amongst my favorite subjects to focus in on when they pass. Each one of the “services” has a configuration specific to its mission, a suit of armor tailor made for the tasks at hand…

– the Coast Guard ones have big honking machine guns…

– FDNY a water cannon…

– even the National Parks Dept. Police have their own version

– collect them all!


New York also is one of the world’s busiest seaports. Manhattan itself is an island. Moreover, the five boroughs are surrounded by water. According to NYPD Lieutenant John Harkins; “ New York City has 184 miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, and we have over 546 square miles of inland waterways…. (and) the city is a major hub of international ship borne commerce.”

The policing of New York’s waterways are provided by the men and women of the NYPD Harbor Unit. The Harbor Unit is on the cutting edge of marine law enforcement. From its 3 bases and 27 boats, the Harbor Unit provides the City of New York with a marine force that is equipped to handle all water borne security, public safety and rescue concerns. This includes: enforcement of maritime laws, missing persons in the water, evidence recovery, air-sea rescues,, narcotics interdiction, anti-terrorism and security for United Nations. To accomplish this mission, the NYPD Harbor Unit works closely with state and federal law enforcement.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Lex Luthor do?

There’s just something I love about the way that these small vessels crash over the water, a latent desire to see it really open up and go top speed. These defender class boats remind me of old science fiction shows from the 70′s, of a colonial viper or earth starfighter.

These boats were built in accordance with a governing military hardware design philosophy called “the weapons platform”. It doesn’t matter what configurations an individual user might install, the chassis is always standard, and one need install or replace only sensors or weapons at one’s own discretion. The United States Navy “Carrier fleet” concept is the ultimate application of this notion.

I often wonder what these boats may be electronically talking to as they patrol, whether they be wireless cameras or some of the more… esoteric gear which is rumored to be at work in the harbor. Police methods are ingenious, and varied.


From “invisible” helicopters and mini-submarines to radiation-detecting knapsacks, the NYPD is employing a new generation of high-tech tools to combat terrorism and fight crime.

Officers are getting equipped with space-age gadgets like handheld bomb detectors, being trained in futuristic flight simulators, and traveling in gadget-filled, crime-solving vans. And more gizmos are being tested every day.

The NYPD’s Scuba Team is evaluating devices that allow divers to see underwater sonar images on LCD screens attached to their masks instead of blindly searching murky rivers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Spider Man do?

Great responsibility accompanies great power, and these police officers- roughly 150- are entrusted with the patrol of nearly 200 miles of coastline and 576 square miles of navigable water. On a warm summer evening such as the one enjoyed when these photos were shot, this seems to be the best posting in the entire NYPD, but remember, they’re out there in blizzards and thunderstorms.


The officers are likely to remain officers, they said, since few harbor unit members make detective.

”You’d basically have to save the mayor’s son from drowning,” Officer Parkin said, looking up toward Gracie Mansion and Carl Schurz Park, with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive running under its promenade.

They made a U-turn and headed back south, toward the Battery, where a Staten Island ferry boat passed, large and empty and brightly lighted.

”Rush-hour ferries,” Officer Whelan said, ”big targets.”

On the Hudson River they passed air vents to the Holland Tunnel, a tall brick structure at the end of Pier 34. A blip on the radar screen off the starboard bow turned out to be a sightseeing boat. Through the squad’s night-vision binoculars, dark undersides of piers were lighted up in Day-Glo green.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would the Punisher do?

The smaller and older of the vessels is a 25 foot fiberglass Parker, which (in its civilian configuration at least)is a 200 HP fishing boat converted over to police duty. Cop hull, cop screws, cop seats, cop bilge pump…sorry, the Blues Brothers are intruding again.

These craft offer a lightweight and shallow draft capability, and the silhouette they offer is reminiscent of older generations of vessels that once fished the coastlines of the north eastern United States in great multitudes. This makes a lot of sense, procuring equipment from the mass market for use by the gendarme, although the manner in which the Parker crashes the waves when at speed must be a great source of discomfort to those onboard.

But, if crime is a disease, NYPD is the cure.

from 1893, at

NEW BOAT FOR HARBOR POLICE; THE PATROL BUILT FOR SPEED AND EFFECTIVE WORK. To be Launched Near Baltimore To-morrow — As Handsomely furnished as a Private Yacht — Fitted for Fire and Wrecking Purposes as Well as Police Duty — Over 143 Feet Long and Constructed of Steel — Her Estimated Speed Sixteen Miles an Hour — Provided with a Powerful Searchlight.

check out these historic shots of Patrol at

photo from

and here’s a link to a movie of Patrol capturing some pirates in 1903

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Captain America do?

also from, in 1889


The degenerate successor of the picturesque pirate of history and romance is the modern “water rat” or river pirate. The operations of thieves of this kind in the waters around New-York led to the establishment in 1857 of the present police patrol of New-York Harbor.

also from

Sec. 157 When a boat shall bring prisoners ashore, it shall be the duty of one or more of the crew, to transfer them to the patrolmen on land, who shall convey the prisoners to the nearest station house.

Sec. 158 In addition to the ordinary baton of a patrolmen, each member of the harbor police shall be armed, while on duty, with a revolving pistol and a cutlass.

Sec. 159 Each boat, while on duty, shall be continually moving, unless engaged in watching some suspected place or vessel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another specie of NYPD Patrol boat, a retired one which I’ve had the privileged of having actually boarded, is Launch 5, aka the Patrolman Walburger.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 6, 2012 at 3:02 am

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  1. […] a gang whose specialty was river piracy operated out of this area – they were called the Swamp Angels – and it’s because of their infamy that the NYPD ultimately created the Harbor Unit. […]

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