NORWALK, Conn. — A nearly $400,000 federal grant will be used to enhance security of the city’s waterfront, including purchasing a police boat and installation of surveillance cameras.
Approval of the funds from FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security was announced Friday at a news conference led by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th District) at the city’s Visitors Docks in Veterans Memorial Park.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
Himes said Norwalk Harbor is commercially very important and is a huge asset to the people of Norwalk and the people of Connecticut, “so it is a security risk and a commercial risk.”
Broken into three parts, the $393,287 grant will be used to acquire a refurbished patrol boat to replace two boats the Police Department intends to sell, install video cameras around the harbor that will be incorporated into the city’s existing video surveillance system, and upgrade communications equipment aboard the city’s main fire boat so it can receive inter-operation marine charts and data from the Coast Guard.
“It’s an exciting day,” said Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik. “We’ve been looking for an upgrade to our police boat for some time.”
Kulhawik credited Deputy Chief Susan Zecca and Lt. Thomas Roncinske for preparing the grant application, saying the department had tried several times previously to obtain federal funds for a new boat.
“Whatever they did this time, I don’t what it was, the magic they worked, but we got it so that’s wonderful,” Kulhawik said. “So it’s going to make a big difference in the services that we perform for the community here and in the harbor.”
Zecca said $150,000 of the grant would be used to acquire the boat.
The police Marine Unit has a custom-designed 35-foot-long, aluminum hull patrol boat it purchased in 1991 and two Zodiac rigid-hull inflatable boats, one acquired in 2006 and the other in 2008, which are commonly referred to as RIBS. It intends to sell the two Zodiacs when the new boat is received around a year from now, Zecca said.
Ronciske said the new vessel will be a refurbished 25-foot-long SAFE Defender-class boat retired by the Coast Guard.
Although similar in appearance to the Zodiacs it will be replacing, a Defender boat has an aluminum hull surrounded by a rigid, foam-filled collar. As with the Zodiacs, Defenders are propelled by twin outboard engines.
As for enhanced surveillance of the harbor area, Karen Del Vecchio, the city’s director of information technology, said an “extensive network of cameras” will be installed.
Zecca said the cameras will be mounted in Veterans Memorial Park and Calf Pasture Beach Park, both of which are in East Norwalk.
The funding also covers the cost of extending the city’s private fiber optic network to the camera locations.
Fire Chief Ginno Gatto said the grant will provide approximately $40,000 to upgrade electronic equipment aboard the vessel Robert L. Bedell, a 38-foot-long, aluminum hull fire boat the department put into service in 2012.
“It’s going to be a huge improvement, with all the latest touch screen capabilities,” Gatto said.
Commenting on receipt of the grant, Mayor Harry Rilling said that, during these times, it is critically important that the men and women of the police and fire departments have necessary resources.
“They need to have the funding that we can provide for them, whatever it is that they need to get the job done,” Rilling said.
Himes noted that the grant was unrelated to the 1033 program, whereby excess military equipment is transferred by the Defense Department’s Defense Logistics Agency to civilian law enforcement agencies. The program has been controversial for ostensibly helping to militarize police forces.
“This is very different,” Himes said. “We need to be smart about this, and what I mean is, it is legitimate to say that there are instances in which police departments appear over-militarized.”
However, he said, “we all hope that it’s rare, but there are instances where we want our police department to have the tactical gear that they need to deal with those very rare instances, but that are truly, potentially horrendous, whether it’s a sniper situation, a hostage situation.”
Story updated at 6 p.m. Wednesday to include different photographs.