The Marine Support Unit
So what's happened to the old Thames Police and their Specials? With the coming of huge super freighters, containerized cargos and also the increase in air-freight, the old Port of London died. Cargo vessels no longer headed up river to the London docks. The ancient wharfs closed, the tugs, cranes and barges disappeared. And so did the police, - well almost.
While five police forces are now involved in "Search and Rescue" or policing the Thames. "The Marine Support Unit" of the Metropolitan Police is the former Thames Division and has the responsibility of policing the 40 miles of river between Dartford Creek and Hampton Court. It is part of an Operational Command Unit called Specialist Support and is commanded by a Chief Inspector. It has 89 regular police officers and 12 volunteer "Specials."
All operate out of the old Thames Police Headquarters Station at Wapping, on the river just below Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. At their disposal are a Command and Control Vessel, which is a fast patrol launch capable of 35 knots, four 33ft. fast patrol boats capable of 40 knots, two "quiet" upriver launches capable of up to 25 knots, and a number of rigid inflatable boats capable of speeds of up to 60 knots, and that's fast! They also have a various assortment of cars and trucks as they may have to travel by road to quickly reach the scene of a crime.
To be a member of the Marine Support Unit, all officers including the Specials, must first serve two years in the police on land duties, after this experience they may then have their name placed on a waiting list for transfer to the Marine Support Unit.
Have the citizens of London noticed the change? Well yes and no. Londoners are not intimately aware of the results of the investigations and the administrative changes, or that the Royal National Life Boat Institution has taken over rescue operations. What they have noticed is the introduction, in 2001, of very fast official boats, buzzing up and down the river. That has really caught their eye. The speed of the new craft is something that would not have been possible a few years ago, as when the docks were in use, the river contained much debris such as large submerged logs that were extremely dangerous to small boats.
The photo shows a modern police launch, known as a "Targa" - a well equipped twin-screw police patrol launch now used by the Marine Support Unit and capable of 40 knots.
In the past, the day-to-day duties of the Thames Police was the prevention of theft and looting, the enforcement of the by-laws of the Port of London Authority, also search and rescue, but now it is mainly dealing with private boating. The fast flowing Thames is not a place for amateur boaters especially at night when large commercial craft proceeding at speed with the tide are hardly visible to the untrained eye. Many river users are amateurs who think they know it all and don't want advice from any official body there to help and protect them. I guess that side of life will never change.