PATROLING THE PORT OF SOUTH LOUISIANA
A team of specially trained deputies in the Port’s Maritime Law Enforcement department secure and protect the assets within this vital economic area spanning three parishes.
When you’re dealing with a 54-mile stretch of river that touches all or part of St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist Parishes, the long arm of the law has to stretch a little longer when policing the Port of South Louisiana.
Recognizing the importance of the Port in both the local and global marketplace and the one-of-a-kind topography of the Port District, Mitch Smith and Edward “Tootie” Nowell were the brainpower behind the formation of the Port of South Louisiana Maritime Law Enforcement division in 2009. Deputies within this department are cross-commissioned to work the entire jurisdiction of the Port, regardless of parish. Officers patrol both sides of the Mississippi River and work in tandem with local and national government agencies in protecting the businesses and interests of the Port of South Louisiana.
“When you look at this, this is a difficult and challenging area to protect and look after,” says Smith, Operations Director at the Port of South Louisiana. “It’s a long stretch of river, it crosses into three different parishes, and it involves maritime situations, which you aren’t necessarily taught when you’re a normal Sheriff’s Office deputy. So you have to have people with a general understanding of the different types of situations they might encounter and a strong familiarity with the area they’re patrolling.”
The Port’s Maritime Law Enforcement officers handle everyday situations that inland deputies witness in highly industrialized areas: trespassing, vandalism, theft and general criminal misconduct. But, there are instances (as Smith mentioned) where officers are dealing with unique circumstances in an unconventional setting – namely on the Mississippi River. Therefore, deputies within the Port District are specifically trained to respond to maritime calls and have received advanced training on boat handling, vessel boarding, vessel identification and searches, arrest procedures and counterterrorism tactics.
For example, many of the vessels that travel through or are docked at the Port of South Louisiana have hard-to-find entry points and narrow, winding passageways on board.
Nowell, who joined the Port staff shortly before the establishment of the Maritime Law Enforcement division, is perfectly suited to help direct the Port’s deputies. Prior to coming to the Port, Nowell spent 31 years with the St. John Parish Sheriff’s department. For his last assignment there, he was Commander of the Marine Division and oversaw water patrol and search and rescue efforts on parish lakes.
Nowell, the assistant Operations Director at the Port, and Smith handle the day-to-day assignments within the Maritime Law Enforcement Division.
“I don’t want to give away too much as far as how we operate, or how and when we position our deputies, but we’re always in constant communication with each other,” Nowell says. “The key a lot of times is being on the same page, so we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
Communication has become much more streamlined with the opening of the Maritime Security Operations Center in the Globalplex Terminal back in 2013. The $1.2 million facility serves as central command for the Port’s Maritime Enforcement officers and the U.S. Coast Guard. The center can withstand hurricane-force winds and is equipped with sensors and surveillance capable of recognizing troublesome incidents on the river in real-time.
By William Kalec