The boat, impaled on pilings in the harbor, as it appeared in December 2016. Image courtesy of the Office of the Inspector General.

Members of the Baltimore Police Department’s Marine Unit were determined to remove a 32-foot boat impaled on pilings in the Inner Harbor.

Starting in December 2016, they tried towing the vessel with a smaller police boat to dislodge it. When that didn’t work, they followed Brody’s advice in “Jaws” and got a bigger boat. The vessel remained stuck.

Moving to land, they hooked a cable from a truck on Thames Street to the boat and tried pulling it in that way. No luck.

Still stymied, they asked the bomb squad for detonation cords filled with explosives to wrap around the pilings to–I guess?–blast the boat free. That request was declined.

Then came the purchase of a $900 underwater chainsaw. More on that later.

Eventually, the Marine Unit successfully freed the pesky ship from its wooden trap, and brought it over to the Boston Street pier so it could be pulled from the water. That only led to more problems.

A Department of Transportation tow truck could not get the boat out, so a private company was hired to use a crane, tow truck and flat-bed truck at a cost of $7,367. By the time it was all said and done in February 2017, the boat, which started out mostly intact, had been reduced to a heap of wood and fiberglass–erasing its estimated value of $11,700 and any chance the city had of auctioning it off.

The boat, as it appeared in February 2017 after the salvage operation. Image courtesy of the Office of the Inspector General.

This was all an immense waste of time and money, according to a new report from the Office of the Inspector General, because the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has a program to remove abandoned boats from waterways at no cost to local jurisdictions. And police knew about it.

“The investigation determined management within BPD was aware of this program but never utilized it,” Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming wrote in her letter summarizing the inquiry.

All told, the city’s down $30,142.25 after the whole ordeal, the report said, including at least three occasions where police officers filed for overtime to extract the vessel.

The OIG said there were inconsistencies in BPD’s account of the salvage operation, including whether anyone contacted the last registered owner of the boat, who would have been responsible for the costs of salvaging the craft. Officers instead acted as if the boat had been abandoned, Cumming told Baltimore Fishbowl.

“Accounts provided by BPD personnel both in writing, and in statements to the OIG regarding contact with the last registered owner could not be corroborated,” Cumming’s report said. “In some instances, these accounts were contradicted by other current and former law enforcement personnel and there were no official records to support some of the statements made.”

Attempts to contact state agencies or private salvage companies “could not be verified with representatives of the various entities,” the report said.

Police said no overtime was paid as part of the operation, but the OIG’s review of department records proved otherwise.

And regarding that chainsaw, an officer put the $900 tool on his personal credit card. He did not follow proper procurement procedures for the purchase, telling his commander he was allowed to “borrow” the chainsaw while his purchase request was being processed.

In response to the findings, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison wrote a letter saying he had forwarded the matter to the Public Integrity Bureau for “appropriate disciplinary action.”

The department has also added new protocols for greater oversight of the Marine Unit, including requiring the supervisor to submit weekly calendars of activities.

This post has been updated.

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Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...

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