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With Shelter Island bay constables on patrol

Bay Constable Butch Labrozzi has seen a lot in his 23 years patrolling the waters around Shelter Island. He, along with the other bay constables, who are a unit of the Shelter Island Police Department, have responded to crashes, fires, boats running in high-speed circles when the operator has been pitched overboard, and they have saved lives multiple times.

One life saved by Officer Labrozzi happened two years ago this month, when he answered a call of a teenage boy who had been fishing on a sandbar and drifted off, and was struggling in deep water.

Officer Labrozzi saw immediately that the boy was in near complete physical exhaustion, battling an unforgiving current. With no time to spare, he  maneuvered close enough to the boy without striking him, opened a side gunwale door of his vessel, grabbed the boy by an arm and dragged him to safety.

Police Chief Jim Read, in his report of the incident, said if the bay constable had not acted quickly and calmly, the boy would have drowned.

All in a day’s work, according to Officer Labrozzi on Saturday, July 16, as he slowly motored out through Dering Harbor in a center console Boston Whaler. On board was Bay Constable Beau Payne, the two men in the middle of a shift at 11:30 a.m. From the moment they left the department’s dock off Volunteer Park, they were on duty, scanning the harbor ahead, behind and on both sides.

Keeping those on the water safe and maintaining order on the waterfront may all be in a day’s work, but when asked about the most unusual incident he’s been involved in, Officer Labrozzi didn’t hesitate.

“Saving a guy from a raccoon that got into his cabin,” he said, as Officer Payne gave an eye roll and smiled. Seems the owner had entered his cabin below decks and been terrified by the masked stowaway. “He didn’t know what to do so he called 911,” Officer Labrozzi said. “I went onboard and escorted the raccoon out of the cabin,” he said.

Other than that, he didn’t want to comment.

Leaving Dering Harbor, he opened up the twin 250-horsepower outboard motors and the boat leapt forward. It was a calm, overcast day, but the boat met small waves going up and pounded down. Officer Payne said the waves were the result of all the activity in the bay, as people were setting out for a Saturday on the water. “You get this, add a change of tide and a good wind, and oh, yeah, you’ll really feel it.”

Like all responsible officers, the two men believe it’s not their job to write tickets, but to serve the public and keep people safe. Within just a few hours, those duties — and some ticket writing — were on display.

Passing Sunset Beach, Officer Payne nodded toward the shore and said, “A lot of nonsense from over there,” adding that the constables regularly have to move boaters from anchoring in restricted swimming areas, and not anchoring securely when they’re in the right place. “Anchors come free when they’re having dinner or something and can crash into other boats,” Officer Payne said.

Boating While Intoxicated arrests are rare, both officers said. Part of it is public information on the perils of drunken operation, but it might be that with so much area to cover, many cases slip under the radar. BWI is a real danger, but Officer Labrozzi said excessive speed and letting kids dangle their legs over the side without life preservers is almost as dangerous.

At the Island Boatyard, Manager James Brantuk had reported a jet ski adrift and the constables came to investigate. They’d already established that no one had been reported missing, so it was most likely the craft had drifted free of a dock. After checking the registration number — something akin to a VIN for a vehicle — within minutes the officers had the name of the owner and his address. Then, an only-on-Shelter Island occurrence: Officer Labrozzi recognized the address just up Meantic Creek as the former home of a retired police officer’s mother.

With the jet ski lashed alongside, they motored slowly up the creek to the dock, and Officer Payne went up to speak to someone. No one home, so Officer Labrozzi called his former colleague who said he’d come by and secure the jet ski to the dock. Sometimes, it’s who you know.

Back in West Neck Harbor, the constables spent time directing anchored boats to move out of a restricted area, or, as Officer Labrozzi put it, “Cleaning this up.” They approached each boat by saying, “Sorry to bother you,” and politely told them of the regulations. Each boat got a “Boater’s Guide,” a pamphlet produced by the Town that shows where boats not registered on Shelter Island can anchor.

Soon both constables spotted a long boat with six young adults relaxing on board using a private mooring. The boat had a stainless steel plate at the bow that Officer Labrozzi said was used to tie up to mega yachts.

The group had come from Greenport earlier in the day, one man said, and were from Rhode Island, but had an out-of-date registration by almost a year. Officer Payne wrote a summons and told them they could answer it by mail. “But get registered,” he said, before pulling away. Later, he said that it “was like driving down a highway without a license plate.”

Several more boats were told they had to move, all approached with firm politeness and all were apologetic about not knowing the rules. Then, near the entrance of the harbor, the constables saw an example of the danger Officer Labrozzi had spoken about earlier — kids playing on the bow of a 30-foot boat with three 400-horsepower outboards.

Coming alongside, Officer Payne was greeted by a young man and he asked him the ages of the kids. Four were under 12, the age where, by law, they must wear life jackets at all times.

Officer Payne told them of the law and the young man nodded. “Let’s get this sorted out now. They have to be put on, now,” the officer said, and people scurried to find life jackets under the seats. Officer Payne calmly talked to the children about how to put on and securely fasten the jackets.

The captain at the controls had been hired for the day, so he received the summons for the children not being protected, since he was responsible for the safety of all aboard. The owner of the boat, when asked for the registration, said he didn’t have one, that he bought the boat two weeks before.

Before leaving, Officer Payne wrote a ticket for no registration and gave it to the owner. He also politely advised the owner to buy some comfortable life jackets for the kids, not the clunky ones that were used as seat cushions.

The owner thanked him for the heads-up and the officers pulled away. Officer Payne said keeping kids safe was the most rewarding part of the job. “I don’t want to be pulling babies out of the water,” he said.

Motoring out of the harbor and opening the throttle, another rewarding part of the job, Officer Payne said, was that he’d “rather have sun on the water than shade on dry land.”

Officer Labrozzi agreed. “It’s the only place to be.”