Alameda Co. considers cutting marine patrol

June 24, 2009 7:13:22 PM PDT
Budget cuts in Alameda County could threaten Homeland Security protection. The county is struggling to cut $40 million from public safety and among the options is eliminating the crew responsible for patrolling the busy Port of Oakland.

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The Alameda County Marine Patrol Unit has one mission: to prevent a terrorist attack.

"We're out here daily checking on what we call critical infrastructures. Checking all the high interest areas where a terrorist attack could occur," says Deputy Sheriff Chris Mears of the Marine Patrol Unit.

Every day the crew patrols the areas around the Bay Bridge, the Port of Oakland, the entire Alameda County coast -- locations that few, if any other law enforcement agencies regularly monitor.

"We always say prevention is hard to measure. Ninety percent of our job is prevention and the fact that nothing has occurred, well we look at that as success," says Deputy Mears.

But what's not hard to measure is Alameda County's $178 million deficit. Officials have until Thursday to close it and on the table are $40 million in public safety cuts, including the elimination of the Sheriff Department's Marine Patrol Unit.

"The Marine Patrol Unit was one of the last things that we put on the list because of its importance to us and it'll be one of the first things we restore if we get additional funds," says Sheriff Greg Ahern.

The Marine Patrol Unit was created in the wake of September 11th with the goal to keep the state's second largest port safe from a terrorist attack.

"Really, they're part of our eyes and ears to help us determine where our threats are in San Francisco. From the Homeland Security perspective, they play a very important part in what we do," says U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Leanne Lusk.

The unit is responsible for more than half of the Coast Guard's Homeland Security patrols in the eastern end of the bay. It also helps with search and rescue operations, for now.

Sgt. Robert Brandt says his crew is vital to public safety in the Bay Area, but it also costs $700,000 a year to maintain.

"I guess it would depend on your perspective. If you're the person that's in the water wanting to be rescued, boy...we're pretty important," said Sgt. Brandt.

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