Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Game Warden Files--Brooklyn, early cases

In the middle of all that, I had to go to work.  I reported to the Trade Center and soon found myself sitting around the table where I'd first been interviewed.  We had a bunch of young and eager officers.   A couple of the guys had been there before going to the academy, but a few of us were really new to it.  We were given good maps of the city and told to go find our way around for a few days.

Dennis O'Reilly, the captain, and Jay Molinelli, the lieutenant told us what was expected of us, and what was NOT expected of us.  They did not believe in writing a bunch of tickets for the sake of writing a bunch of tickets.  They wanted quality cases.  For the most part, I was able to do that.
Part of the Brooklyn assignment was that I had a boat assigned to me.  It was a 31 foot twin 350 horsepower cruiser.  Having that put me into contact with the US Coast Guard at Rockaway, and the the US Park Police Marine Unit, based out of the Coast Guard Station.  Those guys and gals became a great resource as I became a boat operator and as I attempted to make those quality cases that Dennis wanted.

My first good case was a surf clam case.  Surf clams are the largest of the clams harvested in New York waters.  They're sold to be cut into strips or used for chowder stock.  Like all shellfish, surf clams must be taken from water that is certified to a certain standard in order to be harvested or sold for food.  They're harvested with big boats using dredges, and a day's catch for one boat can be well in excess of 100 bushels.  The boats engaged in this fishery are licensed either as food or bait boats.  A bait boat can harvest anywhere, a food boat only could work in the certified area.
One afternoon not too long after I'd begun working in the city, I was watching the activity on the ocean when I realized that I had a surf clam boat working not far from where I was near the Rockaway Jetty.  The water there is uncertified for food clams and the boat I was watching was a food clam boat.  I had my case!  But how to properly document it and make the apprehension?  I went to the Coast Guard station and got one of their senior-most Chief Petty Officers who joined me and with a decent compass and a chart we documented his position.  Then, the US Park Police offered the services of their boat--which was faster than anything the Coast Guard had running that day.  We stopped the surf clam boat, documented who the captain and crew were as well as the location, and had them dump about 150 bushels of clams back overboard.  Our legal department then took the case and worked out a settlement that, as I recall, wasn't cheap.  One of the best things I'll ever recall hearing is my captain's voice on the radio; "OUTSTANDING WORK, BILLY!"  With that, I figured I had truly come into my own.

We also spent a lot of time chasing the guys who harvested the normal variety of clams.  The clams we know from the supermarket or fish store all must come from certified waters also. All of the inland water within New York City is uncertified.  In the 1980's much of the water was really pretty bad.  Emptying into Jamaica Bay there were five sewage treatment plants, there were also several landfills which leached into the waters continually, countless storm get the picture.  Yet, people dug clams from Jamaica Bay.  There were some who were what we called "mess diggers;" those who went out and dug a "mess" for dinner.   There were some who looked like mess diggers; but their idea of a mess was several bags--enough to sell to a restaurant that didn't care too much about the source of their shellfish.  Last were the high end diggers. They went out with boats and rakes or stick dredges, usually under cover of darkness, and dug a lot of clams.  The pollution of the water allowed for wonderful clam production, and they could dig a boatload in a really short time if conditions were right.
The captain decided it was time to do a major operation and catch a couple of these clammers.  We worked tirelessly for just about a month before it finally happened.  For all practical purposes, we didn't take days off, we were going to catch some clammers!.  Two of our guys were out one night and saw a small dark boat leave its dock with what looked like all the right equipment.  They called out the rest of the region's officers and we assembled in the area of Howard Beach, Queens.  The boat came back in just about daylight with about a dozen tubs of clams.  The two men, father and son climbed the ladder from the dock up to the back yard and we took them down at the top of the ladder.  We had them lying on the ground, cuffed, when the door to the house opened and a woman, dressed as a professional business woman, came out, looked over our way, never said a word; but  turned and walked steadily toward the bus stop.  I suspect that was not a happy household after that.
We made the paper with that arrest and pretty well shut the problem down for a while, though not for long.
Chasing the clammers was a continual part of my work the entire time there and after I moved to Staten Island.

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