Byline: Nu Yang
SAN DIEGO — Cpl. Victor Banuelos starts his workday at 5 a.m. While most Southern California residents are still getting out of bed, he’s already logging hours at the San Diego Harbor Police Department, the law enforcement authority for the San Diego Unified Port District. Its jurisdiction extends through the five member cities of the Port District, including San Diego, Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach and National City.
Banuelos has been with the Harbor Police for 13 years. A San Diego native, Banuelos said he loves being on the water and enjoys kayaking and diving.
“This is like having three jobs in one,” he said. “Harbor Police (duty) includes being in the water, in the vehicle and at the airport.”
Located just a few miles away, San Diego International Airport is another part of the Harbor Police’s jurisdiction. According to Banuelos, about 60 percent of Harbor Police officers are assigned to the airport each day.
As a part of the Harbor Police’s vessel patrol, Banuelos’ responsibilities include enforcing local and state laws, as well as educating the boating public about navigation rules and boating safety. According to Banuelos, there are 132 sworn law enforcement officers.
The department has a total of 10 boats ranging from smaller multipurpose boats, such as an 18-foot rigid-hull inflatable used by the dive team, to Firestorm fireboats that are 39 feet in length. Thanks to a Homeland Security grant, three more custom-built Firestorms will also be added to the fleet in the near future. The boats are equipped to provide emergency rescue services for people and boats in trouble during emergencies and poor weather. They are equipped with firefighting equipment, an arsenal and first-aid gear.
“We have to be ready for anything,” Banuelos said.
On this particular patrol, he is joined by Officer Kevin Seelicke. Before becoming a Harbor Police officer five years ago, Seelicke started out as a park ranger with the city of San Diego.“I just traded for a bigger lake,” he said, jokingly.
Although Seelicke grew up far from the ocean in Lancaster, he spends time on the water surfing when he’s away from work. He said what he enjoys most about his job is the spontaneity. During The Log’s ride-along, Seelicke was on the boat with Banuelos; but the next day, he would be patrolling the airport.
There are three 10-hour shifts — a day shift from 5 a.m.-3 p.m., a night shift from 1:30-11:30 p.m. and a graveyard shift from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Banuelos said an officer could spend five to seven hours on the water per shift.
Banuelos and Seelicke headed to the A9 Anchorage, an area adjacent to the Coast Guard Air Station on the east tip of Harbor Island. Known as the Cruisers Anchorage, it is available for use by nonresidents of San Diego County only.
There, they found a vessel that had overstayed its welcome. After making some phone calls, Banuelos and Seelicke made the decision to have the vessel towed.
As they waited for the towing service to arrive, Banuelos explained that what he and his fellow officers do the most on the water is educate the public.
“We work with recreational boaters,” he said. “People are out here to have fun, but there are always different challenges. That’s the variety of the job.”
Next, they headed to the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. The sun was finally coming out on this gray day, and others were out on the water fishing, also enjoying the change in weather.
Banuelos said that even after 13 years, he still looks forward to seeing the sunrise. “I love the wildlife out here,” he said, noting he has seen dolphins, whales and sea otters.
Banuelos and Seelicke pulled up beside two men fishing in a boat and reminded them to stay 75 feet away from the bridge.
“Catch anything yet?” Banuelos asked the fishermen.
It was early afternoon when they headed back to the boat station on Shelter Island. They passed by the Embarcadero and Harbor Island. Not far away was Point Loma and Coronado, putting into perspective how large of an area is under Harbor Police officers’ jurisdiction. However, in Mission Bay, on-the-water law enforcement is provided by the San Diego Lifeguard Service Harbor Patrol and the San Diego Police Department.
When they returned to the docks, Banuelos and Seelicke washed the boat, checked the oil and coolant, and made sure it was ready for the next shift. Their workday may have been over, but Banuelos and Seelicke would be out on the water again soon.
“People always wave to us,” Banuelos said. “Kids, adults, people on boats, on the streets — they always wave.”
So, next time you see the San Diego Harbor Police boat, don’t forget to wave, Banuelos said. The officers inside will wave back.