In 1861, MPDC's Harbor Patrol was established as the first specialized police force and has operated continually ever since. What started as a one-man operation expanded in the 1880s to 14 officers under the command of Lieutenant J. R. Sutton, the first Harbor Master. An extract from patrol archives reads, "...the Harbor police are a terror to the wharf rats and river thieves who ply their vocation on the river front. They also patrol the wharves to promptly discover fires thereby preventing disastrous configurations."
Today's Harbor Patrol consists of 19 well-equipped and highly trained officers and sergeants under the command of the Harbor Master. Though the law enforcement mission remains the same, the Patrol's duties have greatly expanded.
One of the specialized duties is Underwater Search and Recovery (USR). The Harbor Patrol USR Team consists of 15 certified divers equipped with the latest dive technology including underwater metal detectors, 600kHZ and 1200kHz sonars, and underwater communications equipment that enables the divers to stay in constant contact with surface personnel. Harbor Patrol officers are also certified in air/sea rescue, ice rescue, accident reconstruction, marine mechanics, and boating safety instruction.
The Harbor Patrol provides an excellent boating safety program. A four-lesson basic boating safety course is given free of charge to the public. The Patrol awards each individual who successfully completes the course with a certificate. Harbor Patrol representatives are available to speak about boating safety to any interested group or organization in the District of Columbia. All instructors in boating safety are certified by either the US Coast Guard or the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.