Municipal Police To Patrol Lake Zoar
Municipal Police To Patrol Lake Zoar
By Andrew Gorosko
Although the many recreational boaters who ply the waters of Lake Zoar on summer weekends may not realize it, the staff of the Lake Zoar Marine Patrol has changed.
The patrol staff is now comprised of police officers from the police departments of the four towns that abut the lake â Newtown, Monroe, Oxford, and Southbury. Lake Zoar is an 11-mile-long impoundment on the Housatonic River, extending from Shepaug Dam on the north to Stevenson Dam on the south.
Following continuing conflict over the organizational legitimacy of the former marine patrol staff, the first selectmen of the four member towns of the Lake Zoar Authority agreed to restructure and restaff the marine patrol with the members of the four town police departments, who will be carrying sidearms while on patrol.
Each weekend patrol will be comprised of police officers from of one of the four member towns, who will be scheduled on a rotating basis, explained Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe.
Newtown resident Joseph Steinfeld, who is a special police officer with the Newtown Police Department, resigned as the chief of the former marine patrol in April.
Newtown police officers worked the marine patrol duty during the first weekend of the summer patrol season on Lake Zoar from May 25 through 27, Chief Kehoe said this week. Newtown Officers Steve Ketchum, Andrew Stinson, and Richard Robinson worked that duty. Newtown officers also are scheduled to work on the weekends of June 25-26, July 23-24, and August 20-21. Marine patrols will end on the Labor Day weekend. The unit has two patrol boats.
The marine patrol became a topic of discussion more than a year ago, after First Selectman Mark Cooper of Southbury and First Selectman August Palmer of Oxford raised questions about the organizational legitimacy of the marine patrol.
An anonymous letter, which had been sent to the first selectmen of the four towns in March 2004, had questioned the marine patrolâs use of the term âpolice department,â its use of a police logo, and its use of the term âpolice chiefâ in describing Mr Steinfeld.
That letter sparked concerns from Mr Cooper and Mr Palmer about the operation of the marine patrol and about its membersâ carrying handguns while on duty. Consequently, the Lake Zoar Authority had the marine patrol work on the lake unarmed for two weekends in the summer of 2004, after which the officers resumed carrying handguns.
Mr Cooper and Mr Palmer are the titular chiefs of police in their respective towns. Southbury and Oxford have municipal police officers, who are supervised by resident state troopers. Newtown and Monroe have independent police departments.
Although the former members of the marine patrol were sworn police officers, because they were not sworn officers in the four towns that abut Lake Zoar, except for Mr Steinfeld, their legitimacy to patrol the lake had been cast in doubt.
Ensuing talks among the four first selectmen resulted in the arrangement under which police officers from the four towns will assume the marine patrol duties. The officers will be paid for their work by the lake authority, as if the officers were on private police duty.
âWe had to come up with a solution, and this is the solution we came up withâ¦We all decided on that togetherâ¦Itâs a restructuring,â Chief Kehoe said.
The police who will participate in marine patrols have received specialized marine police training, Chief Kehoe said. The members of the police department that is on duty on the lake on a given weekend will answer to the chief of that police department, Chief Kehoe said. Only the members of one police department will be on patrol on any given weekend, he said.
There will be no single âchiefâ for the marine patrol, he said.
In light of the restructuring of the Lake Zoar Marine Patrol, many members of the Lake Zoar Authority have resigned from office. Although the organization is authorized to have up to 12 members, the group has had only nine members since late last year.
Five members have recently resigned from the panel, said Howard Saad of Monroe, who resigned on May 27 as the agencyâs chairman.
Mr Saad, who has been an authority member since the groupâs formation in 1972, served as its chairman for more than five years, and had been a co-chairman of the group for 20 years preceding that.
The marine patrol organization was âdismantledâ and a new system was created in its place, Mr Saad said.
Only four people remain as authority members, Mr Saad said. They are: William Soracin of Newtown, and David Perriello, Lynn Wilson, and Paul Gallichotte, all of Southbury. Mr Gallichotte, the groupâs treasurer, is expected to assume a temporary chairmanship, Mr Saad said.
Members who have recently resigned are: Bruce Kerns of Newtown, plus Bernie Lintzner, Jeannie Purcella, and Glenn Ganz, all of Oxford.
Anthony DâAngelo of Newtown formerly served as a member. He resigned from the panel in November 2004.
Lake Zoar Authority members are appointed to the panel by the boards of selectmen from their respective towns.
Asked why he stepped down from the agency, Mr Saad said, â I just didnât feel I was effective any longer.â
The marine patrol was functioning well, but then the anonymous letter appeared, prompting controversy, he said. Mr Saad said Mr Steinfeld did an âoutstanding jobâ heading the marine patrol.
âI really am very hurt over thisâ¦It breaks my heart,â Mr Saad said.
Mr Saad said he wishes the new marine patrol the best of luck in its work.
âThe [boating] public will be as âprotectedâ as they were âprotectedâ with us,â he said of the former marine patrol.
Newtown First Selectman Herb Rosenthal said the Lake Zoar Authority will purchase the police patrol services of the police officers from the four members towns who work on the revamped marine patrol.
After discussions with the other first selectmen, it became clear that it would be unworkable to continue with the former marine patrol structure, Mr Rosenthal said.
The first selectmen of the four towns had consulted with the stateâs Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council on liability issues, he noted. Whether members of the former marine patrol had the legal authority to carry sidearms had been an issue, he noted.
Each of the four towns will now have a liaison police officer for the lake marine patrol, he said.
Mr Rosenthal said he will ask Mr Kerns to consider being reappointed to the Lake Zoar Authority.
The four first selectmen will gauge how well the new marine patrol organization works, Mr Rosenthal said. If the unit works well, it would become a permanent arrangement, he said.
The Lake Zoar Authority is authorized to have three members from each of the four member towns. Besides boating safety, the group addresses lake water quality issues and aquatic weed control.