Parkinson’s Navy

August 1, 2014
Sheriff Ian Parkinson

Sheriff Ian Parkinson


Sheriff Ian Parkinson told San Luis Obispo County Supervisors in April that he needed an extra half million dollars to buy and operate a 27-foot Defender Class response boat to tow drug smuggling boats, known as pangas, an expense he said would save the county money.

Parkinson noted in his request the nearly $10,000 cost of towing one panga boat as one of the reasons the county would benefit financially by purchasing its own boat for ocean towing. Supervisors approved his request for the $493,013 budget increase and permission to acquire federal funding to match the budget increase.

But officials from both the U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security said they have never charged the county for bringing in any suspected drug smuggling boat or for assisting or leading in criminal investigations.

“We have never charged for towing a panga boat,” said Lori Haley, public relations spokeswoman at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an arm of Homeland Security.

And Paul Amaral the operator of Vessel Assist Ventura, a salvage company that tows vessels for the Department of Homeland Security in Ventura and Santa Barbara, says the numbers Parkinson used just don’t add up.

“The sheriff’s request being reviewed here is somewhat misleading in its information and I think the intended use of that $343,000 boat is impractical in real world application,” Amaral told the board at the April meeting. “I feel this proposal is a misuse of taxpayer funds.”

The rest of the $493,013 budget increase would go to buy license-plate readers, night-vision goggles and a thermal-imaging camera to detect pangas at sea, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Sheriff’s Spokesperson Tony Cipolla has made several statements addressing “cost savings” the county would gain by buying a vessel to tow panga boats.

However, since the first panga boat was spotted beached on the San Luis Obispo County coastline, federal agencies have provided aquatic towing at no charge to the county.

Still, the county would save money by spending almost half a million dollars to purchase, outfit and staff the patrol boat this year, Cipolla said.

“Some cost savings will be achieved by reducing the amount of overtime our personnel will incur safeguarding the panga boats while they wait for it to be towed,” Cipolla said. “Sometimes this is done by the Coast Guard, other times it’s contracted out to private vessels sent by Homeland Security from Ventura.”

The time it takes for a tow vessel to reach pangas varies depending on the agency. If the Coast Guard is assisting the sheriff, which can only occur in certain situations, officers leave Morro Bay within 30 minutes of receiving a request. In other cases, where Homeland Security is the lead agency, a boat is dispatched from the Ventura area and takes about three hours to arrive.

Even so, local Homeland Security agents usually wait with the boat, Amaral said.

The Sheriff’s Department did not say whether deputies would have to stay with abandoned drug boats using the new department tow boat.

Parkinson also said the boat could be used to patrol the coastline in the future, though he does not have the staff to man the boat for regular patrols at this time.

“My job is to protect the citizens of the county and we do not have a boat to respond,” Parkinson told the board. “When these boats hit the beaches of San Luis Obispo County, they become our problem, specifically my problem.”

Parkinson told Supervisor Frank Mecham that the Coast Guard detachment at Morro Bay was focused on water safety.

“The primary mission of the U.S. Coast Guard station in Morro Bay is search and rescue, and local authorities have had little to no ability to conduct interdiction operations,” Parkinson responded.

But U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson Adam Stanton said his agency’s mission combines coastal security, drug interdiction, search and rescue, defense readiness first line defense, migrant interdiction, ICE operations and general law enforcement.

Amaral told supervisors that he questioned the cost effectiveness and safety of Parkinson’s proposed purchase, as well as the accuracy of Parkinson’s presentation.

Parkinson responded at the time by claiming his agency had seized the majority of the 12 boats that had beached in San Luis Obispo County before April 22. He said Amaral was misinformed.

Amaral said the county had handled the investigations and retained evidence for only four or five of the 12 panga boats that had landed on the San Luis Obispo County Coast, a statement confirmed independently by SLO County Sheriff Chief Deputy Rob Reid.

“Since May 2012, the sheriff’s office has been involved in 14 incidents with ‘panga’ boats,” Reid wrote in July in response to a CalCoastNews public records request. “Of those, the sheriff’s office conducted the investigation and retained the evidence involved in five incidents. The remaining incidents were handled by federal agencies which took control of the evidence involved.”

In several of the six cases handled by homeland security, sheriff deputies first drove the boats to Morro Bay where they were met by a towing company that transported the boats to a storage facility in the Dana Point area for Homeland Security.

In those five or six cases the county handled, either the U.S. Coast Guard towed the panga boat to Morro Bay for the sheriff at no cost, or local law enforcement officers have pushed boats back into the ocean and then driven the pangas to Morro Bay, or the boat was collected off the beach and transported by land to a sheriff storage area.

Supervisor chair Bruce Gibson voiced concerns about future costs to the county and asked Parkinson if private salvage operators couldn’t remove the boats more skillfully and at less cost than the sheriff’s department.

Parkinson rejected that suggestion, saying that in the past Homeland Security has had to pay “close to $10,000” for a tow. In addition, he noted the cost of about $2,000 the county paid a local tow company to transport a panga by land from Morro Bay to the sheriff’s department, a cost that the purchase of a sheriff patrol boat will not affect.

Parkinson said that the cost to maintain the boat would be about $800 a year. However, other local law enforcement agency representatives have told CalCoastNews that the average annual maintenance cost for a patrol boat is about $4,000.

Gibson said he would approve Parkinson’s request based on the sheriff’s statements, but added that he wanted more oversight. He requested the board require information about the marine enforcement unit’s successes and expenses for the next budget cycle.

Amaral questioned why supervisors did not ask Parkinson to document his statements.

“The board of supervisors already had their minds made up,” Amaral said. “It is really frustrating that an elected official would bend the truth to get his way. If they had just taken the time to research the information, but no they trusted him blindly.”

Panga boats have become a popular vehicle for smugglers to bring drugs and people from Mexico to California’s beaches.

According to arrest statistics reported 2011-2013 by ICE, the number of maritime smuggling events spiked, with most of the panga seizures occurring in Southern California. The majority of the boats moved people, though some were used to transport marijuana and methamphetamine.

The numbers of panga boats retrieved is now declining. From Oct. 2013 through March, 85 boats were seized along California’s coastline. A year earlier, during the same period, there were 96, according to ICE statistics.

In May 2012, the first panga boat was discovered beached in SLO County, there were four beached that year. In 2013, law enforcement seized six pangas.

To date, in 2014, four panga boats have been discovered beached in SLO County, two since Parkinson requested the patrol boat for towing pangas. In one case, the Coast Guard towed the panga for the county at no cost. A group of men pushed the other boat back into the water so that Fish and Game wardens could drive it to Morro Bay for the sheriff’s department.

And while Reid says the county has only taken custody of five of the 14 pangas that have beached in SLO County, his list does not include the last two pangas the county seized.

Sheriff Parkinson declined to discuss the contradicting statements and said he would decide what he would do after CalCoastNews published this story.

“We will wait to review the story before determining our course of action,” Parkinson said.


Watch the SLO Board of Supervisors meeting here, then click on April 22, and go to Item 28.

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How about selling off the confiscated pangas to pay an underemployed fishing vessel to haulAlso, the hauling distances aren’t that lengthy. Come on, Ian…get real!


They are not properly licensed. Too many laws to comply with.


To all those who oppose the Sheriff’s Department acquiring a boat to patrol our shores, let me remind you that the US Coast Guard will tell you that it is not their job. Surprise! They claim they are rescue only not law enforcement. As for the Department of Homeless Security, how is that working for you? Do you feel secure knowing that they are “Securing” your homeland. What a flippen joke! Somebody NEEDS to get a handle on our borders and these pangas boats or they will continue to enter our country with complete impunity. Oh, wait! They are!

The Federal(alies) do not recognize our “borders” whether it is the one we share with Mexico or the Oceans. They are to busy baby sitting obama’s future voters to care about “home land security”.

Imagine if a drug smuggler can smuggle in tons of marijuana what a muslim terrorist could smuggle in.

I vote for doubling that amount for shore patrol.


I oppose any government law enforcement agency ignoring common sense laws of the sea. Your Sheriffs have as much business operating a 27 foot high performance boat on the sea TOWING without a Master Of Towing licensed mariner as they do operating a helicopter without a licensed pilot. You know why the cost of towing a large boat like a panga with four engines costs so much? It’s because the Towing/Salvage company has to hire a licensed Merchant Marine with the proper license. Your Keystone doofuses need to read up on maritime law. The taxpayers in SLO have just been taken for a very expensive and useless ride.



Unless of course they obtain the proper licenses.

Theo P. Neustic

You can’t get that license with out “Sea Time”. Now how’s a deputy going to acquire that? It’s accumulated over years of time in the actual business with endorsements for specific jobs such as towing. The license is rated on the size of the vessel on which one earns his Sea Time. Would you suggest paying a deputy to spend several years at sea to get the license?


How over simplified is that. If you had any education or training on the subject, or even read other posts; you would know that the “underemployed fishing vessel” nor its crew are licensed to do such. But then again, at least 33 other people are just as ignorant on the subject.


The cost is so high, because they CAN charge that amount and if you don’t pay it, they will keep that panga with four $25K motors.


I am curious — what is the source of your contention that the US Coast Guard doesn’t regard dealing with panga smugglers as part of their job? Their official statements say otherwise. Do you really know something they are hiding or are you just speculating based on some limited personal experience?

As for your “scary terrorists” reasoning, that time-worn propaganda effort has left a lot of people (including me) rolling our eyes collectively. The feds have used it to justify ever expanding assaults on personal rights and have little proof that it has done any good. I think you are all overestimating the likelihood of a successful terrorist attack. That isn’t to say that it couldn’t (or even won’t) happen again, but just that the costs of guarding against every possible scenario are way out of proportion to the benefits — both financially and in terms of individual liberty — and may well miss the scenario that those fanatics choose next time.


I have spoken to two USCG officers, one of which is recently retired. Both say that if they did happen upon a panga boat, they would investigate, but they did not consider drug smuggling of marijuana as a priority.

You are right about the “Scary terrorists” reasoning. After all, that was the attitude before 9/11 about planes, right?

Not guarding against “every” possible scenario, just the ONE that is Tried and True. Mexicans, without so much as a grade school education has proven it can out smart the USCG. I would think that a muslim with a high school education would be able to mimic them.


Anyone remember McHale’s Navy?


PrettyBoy Parkinson should wish that he was half as smart as Ernest Borgnine


Boy, do I, Pelican. I crewed, played on, and fished off that boat, the actual PT73. My buddy Harold Crozier of Hawthorne bought it from Universal Studios (who had bought it from Howard Hughes who used it as a tender for the Spruce Goose). Hal pulled the Packards and put in some slug power (6-71’s so it just chugged along) and we had great times. He kept it for a time at Hamilton Marine down south. It was a real Elco all marine plywood we struggled to keep in nice condition, and had the Russian Cyrillic writing on a couple of placards because it was built for Lend-Lease but never got delivered to the Russian Navy. I miss Hal and that boat. Sorry to go down memory lane.

I like your analogy for this boat purchase request. Not the best use of taxpayer funds.


I do, but the characters in that series were way smarter than Parkinson


This bloated bureaucratic boondoggle is a totally stupid waste of taxpayer money.

Far cheaper and wiser to hire a private civilian contractor on an “as needed” or “paid on call” basis.


And who in the Sheriffs Department is qualified to captain a towing vessel? I guess NOBODY Someone is going to have to get LICENSED by the Merchant Marines

A Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) officer endorsement as Master

or Mate of Towing Vessels is required to be the first or second

captain on towing vessels greater than 26 feet in length. The

Apprentice Mate (steersman) license is a training position for Mate of

Towing. The applicant for a license as Master or Mate of Towing

must hold a Radar Observer Endorsement.

Master of Towing (46 CFR 11.464)

Master of Towing Vessels authorizes the authority to be the first

captain on tugboats and towing vessels within the limitations of the

endorsement. To qualify for Master of Towing the applicant must

meet one of the following requirements.

To qualify for Master of Towing the applicant must have four

years total qualifying experience; 18 months of this experience

must have been as Mate of Towing vessels while holding a

license as Mate of Towing; 90 days of the qualifying

experience must have been on the route requested with a

completed TOAR for that route.

If you hold an endorsement as Master of Inspected vessels

greater than 200 GRT (meaning 500 GRT or more) and have

30 days of observation and training on a route and a TOAR for

that route, you can sail as Master of any towing vessel within

the limitations of the endorsement. HAHAHAHA I’l bet your keystone cop doesn’t even know the law regarding this.


Which will lead to the curious situation of the Sheriffs getting boarded and arrested by the Coast Guard for illegally operating a towing vessel exceeding 26 feet without a qualified and licensed Towing Master. HA HA HA HA what a bunch of doofeses!


Someone needs to enforce our shoreline security. The Coast Guard will tell you it is NOT their job. The Department of Homeland Security is to busy baby sitting future democrat voters to care about our coastal invasion. So if not the Sheriff’s Department then who? Who do you blame for failing to do their job? Where does the responsibility lie?

If they do board and arrest the Deputies it will be the first enforcement action they have taken other than a citation or two for not enough life jackets or the such.


You just might want to actually talk to your local Coast Guard Commander. Go on, just go down to the station in Morro Bay and ask to talk to him (Or her) You will certainly find that your comment is pure bullshit. Please educate yourself before disparaging and insulting our armed forces.


I have! I have ask two separate CG Officers. They both told me they were not responsible. Beside, if they were – I like to ask – How is that working for you? Happy with their service? It is just like the border patrol. If the Feds are inept at the job, then perhaps the states should seal the border.

If Morro Bay’s CG is accepting the responsibility of drug interdiction then let me compliment them on a job well done. How many panga boats have they intercepted? NONE you say. Job well done! Let’s give them a raise. I’m sure they wrote at least a couple of tickets last year for no life vest or something.


Good points, Vagabond. Ian Parkinson has no respect for the Code of Federal Regulations, and isn’t interested in federal law which he feels his agency cannot and should not enforce, nor even take heed of. Olivas will tell you that. Here are specifics:

The Code of Federal Regulations is involved every time someone wakes up your baby, shakes your home, takes your peace in a public park, at an auto show or dining in downtown SLO or A-town or anywhere, with a machine that openly, notoriously, and violently assaults your peace and space. These are the illegally modified Harleys and sport bikes that change or remove their manufacturer-stamped required stamped and certified mufflers.

The noise standard (and manufacturers comply) that a Harley has is the same allowed sound as a Toyota Camry. A nice quiet mix of engine, tire, trans and responsible, civilized exhaust sound. Every rumble, blat, and toilet sound you hear from crappy oil dripping junk modified Harleys is illegal.

40 CFR 205 (d) (e) and so forth. Call the Sheriff’s Dept about this and you’ll be ignored, or given lip service. They don’t give a crap about the law, not in my extensive experience.

You don’t have to listen or tolerate the biker thugs, except irresponsible Ian and the city cops, and the lazy ineffective complicit Highway Patrol don’t pull over and cite these thugs seldom or at all. Certain quality other jurisdictions do, and the bikers know where not to shake the public.

Forget about sheriff Parkinson following the Code of Federal Regulations, Vagabond. He’s a cop and he’s immune to infraction and misdemeanor level issues. With law enforcement in levels of my IMMEDIATE family, I am so sorry to have to point this out. Cops shameless non-enforcement/malfeasance on the rattling PERVASIVE SPREAD OF thug bikes on this public health issue(noise disruption=shorter life, per CDC-P Atlanta and NIH Washington) grieves me. Let the Sheriff’s Dept blow money on their vanity boat, but don’t think they’ll observe licensing or regulations.


Ah, Yes! The Code of Federal Regulations. You’re right governs EVERY aspect of your life. From the time you wake up to the time you think you’re ready for bed. Gotta love Big Government.

I do know of one LEO in San Luis County that is, or at least was a license Merchant Marine, that was Tow Certified.


The Code of Federal Regulations

what sort of Law officer has a problem with following them? eh ?


Sounds like the sheriff wants to have a new boat to go catch the tuna this year , this is just a waste of the money that the county says they don’t have , and im not sure but I think the dive team is a volunteer group .

they have many PANGAS with lots of HP to use for towing , besides the cops need to stay on the land , and let the C.G. take care of the ocean , that is what there trained for.


….”and let the C.G. take care of the ocean” How’s that working for you? Feel Safe? If some illegal alien can smuggle tons of marijuana right under their noses, imagine what muslim terrorists are bringing in.

PS: The panga boat(s) are not licensed to tow.


This is perfect example why government is so big and so redundant, while so very ineffective.


I agree with the ineffective part. 0 for 14 pangas is not a good batting average for who ever is responsible.


Cipolla seems to have had a relapse of Parkinson’s disease. Same kind of b.s. lines he

parroted as the Central Coast’s wimpiest T.V. anchor ever.


If they really want a boat to patrol with why don’t they just use one of the panga boats that they confiscated? Why drop half a million when you have taken possession of 12 different boats with some really nice outboards on them.


…or sell them to pay for one that actually has radar and lights and……


Irwin, you are being way way too sensible and logical – that kind of thinking just doesn’t go on in our County government.