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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The boat would be a great idea if it had orders to blow the invader panga boats up and had the means to do so.


Im not so much concerned with any particular departments requests… what is troubling over the years has been watching the huge amount of money being squandered by the Board of Supervisors on new positions, unnecessary pet projects, company cars/credit cards and expense accounts…. and good money following bad to organizations riddled with scandal.

Personally, I would like us to have a Navy…. but this is too close to the central mission of our governments: public safety, maintenance of our infrastructure and our schools.


I continue to be concerned with the paramilitary approach that is growing in many local law enforcement agencies.


Home grown link to a pdf



Seriously … Is anyone really surprized with his behavior?

Remember this editorial from the Tribune?


Unbelievable! Shame on Parkinson for proposing this unneeded expense and for our BOS for ignoring the input from REAL protectors of our coast just for a new toy and bragging rights from the Sheriff’s Department. Where is fiscal responsibility when we have to exaggerate the numbers to get our way…Shame!


There’s a hold up in Los Osos,

Cambria has broken out in fights.

There’s a traffic jam in Shell Beach

That’s backed up to Pismo Heights.

There’s a scout troop short a child,

Parkinson’s spending has gone wild….

Boat 54, Where Are You?


One more toy…



WHERE are these Panga boats being towed to for $10K?

WHAT do they do with the Panga boats when they get towed to their final destination?

WHAT do they do with the +$20K outboard engines?

WHY does it cost $10K to tow a boat?

ARE the Panga boats destroyed? Vehicles used in drug crimes are not destroyed as evidenced by the Sheriff’s Departments DARE Viper

MATCHING federal funds are mentioned in the article. So did SL:O Sheriff’s department actually receive $986,026?

WHERE is the new 27′ Defender Class boat going to live? In a dock. On a trailer and towed by who and what? There evidently is 24 hour security for the beached Panga’s. What about security for the $343K tow boat?”.

WAS the approval vote by the Supervisors unanimous?

FOURTEEN Panga incidents so far at $10K each = $140K. So another 20 Pangas beached and the $340K tow boat has paid for itself!

DOESN’T Paul Amaral, who is quoted quite frequently, have cause for a very biased opinion given he is the operator of vessel salvage company.

WHY is there confusion over who becomes the lead law enforcement agency; be it Homeland Security, US Coast Guard or SLO Sheriffs.


Salvor 1


When the cartels began using pangas to import people and drugs, the pangas were auctioned off and ended up promptly back in the smuggling business. Now they are impounded pending the conclusion of investigation, then the hulls are destroyed. Engines may be sold by the contractor who does the impounding and demolition of the hulls.


The $10,000. dollar figure is an extreme incident; weather-difficult and dangerous location. Most incidents cost much much less.


Of course he’s biased. He likes to work. But the data he has provided is accurate. His company is highly regarded by LEO’s in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and the US Coast Guard. Coast Guard and LEO on-water operations cost the taxpayer much more than commercial towers for the same service.


There is no confusion. Dept of Homeland Security CBP’s Office of Air and Marine has created a coordinated network that includes USCG, ICE, state and county LEO’s. As such, the OAM is the lead agency.


That would be the million dollar question. Most panga busts are due to aircraft surveillance and USCG and high speed ICE boats.


Wow! Thank you Salvor 1. You are correct on every count.

If you watch my presentation, there’s a link at the bottom of the article, you will see that I presented myself as the owner of a marine towing and salvage company. Of course I will defend my right to work and not have to compete against a public entity that is funded by tax dollars. I don’t think the Sheriff’s Department would be allowed to buy their own tow truck and compete against local towing companies, no matter what reasons were given, yet it’s OK to buy a boat and compete against a marine tower and salvor.

My argument to the Supervisors was that there are companies, not just mine, that already do this kind of work and the cost to the county would be less to hire them than all the costs associated with having and operating the proposed boat, even if the boat is being bought with grant money.

I also pointed out inaccuracies in Sheriff Parkinson’s request. I felt the facts and figures presented were being manipulated in order to justify the purchase. I also feel some of the arguments he used during the meeting are misleading, if not entirely false. He claims to have a Marine Unit with several vessels and that his dive team is trained in vessel recovery. I think the main role of the Marine Unit is working on the local lakes and not the open ocean and rugged coastline of San Luis Obispo County. That’s an entirely different operating environment requiring specialized equipment and training, not just a well equipped boat.

I complemented Sheriff Parkinson for the work he has done landside in combatting this problem and stated that I felt the grant funds could be better utilized fighting the problem from a land based approach. All the arrests in SLO county have been due to land side interdiction. Not to mention that the majority of the stated panga cases have been abandoned boats discovered long after the crime has been committed.


“Most panga busts are due to aircraft surveillance and USCG and high speed ICE boats.” NONE of which has happened in SLO County!

Salvor 1

“Most panga busts are due to aircraft surveillance and USCG and high speed ICE boats.” NONE of which has happened in SLO County”

That is correct. Most interdictions happen offshore between the US/MEX border and the Channel Islands.

To the best of my knowledge, not a single panga has been discovered by Stonegarden RIBS that are manned by teams of Sheriffs and ICE/CBP personnel.

That said it would be much more practical and cost effective for the SLO Sheriffs to buy or lease a heavy twin diesel deep V hull like many commercial fisherman use. A big heavy diesel Farallon or Radon or Anderson, for example, would be safer and more sea-kindly off SLO/BigSur, than a light weight RIB.

But the most cost effective solution is to continue hiring commercial towing companies. $345,000 for the occasional tow is a boondoggle.

, the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone, in a situation in which a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives given limited resources. Assuming the best choice is made, it is the “cost” incurred by not enjoying the benefit that would be had by taking the second best choice available

It’s called opportunity cost.


Are you ignoring the reason(s) for wanting to purchase the boat or simply stuck on the ONE reason (towing) that they should not?

At least the SLOSO is trying to do something about the unfettered access the smugglers have to our coast.

Why is it that NO ONE is concerned that the US Coast Guard is such a dismal failure?

Take the boat away from them and give it to someone that gives a darn about Guarding our Coasts.


Although Vagabond has done a great job of explaining the real duties of the Coast Guard, as have the spokespersons interviewed by Karen and Dan, I invite Topper (and anyone else who doubts that this move by Parkinson is really dumb) to check out this page from the USCG site:

Note that the Introduction section says, “The Coast Guard is the lead federal agency for maritime drug interdiction and shares lead responsibility for air interdiction with the U.S. Customs Service. As such, it is a key player in combating the flow of illegal drugs to the United States. The Coast Guard’s mission is to reduce the supply of drugs from the source by denying smugglers the use of air and maritime routes in the Transit Zone, a six million square mile area, including the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Pacific. In meeting the challenge of patrolling this vast area, the Coast Guard coordinates closely with other federal agencies and countries within the region to disrupt and deter the flow of illegal drugs.”

Obviously, this is totally in sync with Karen and Dan’s story, including this: “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.”



Its very simple as to what Topper is up to and best explained by this youtube clip

Topper is simply lying down a smokescreen to try and shield Parkinson from legitimate public criticsim.

Heck I bet Topper is none other than Tony Cipolla himself. Just a guess


@TacomaRose – Not at all! I am, however, retired Law Enforcement (not from the SLO Sheriff’s Dept) Your guesses are about as accurate as your theories on how to deal with coastal security.


“The Coast Guard is the lead federal agency for maritime drug interdiction” How is that working out for you?

Feeling real secure do you?

IF, and I do say, If the Morro Bay Coast Guard is claiming jurisdiction over the coastal drug interdiction, I must say, they are about as effective as the US Border Patrol at securing our borders!

How PROUD they must be of their accomplishments. The Sheriff’s Department has a better batting average than the CG. Heck, even the Department of Homeland Security does a better job.

Perhaps, you would best me satisfied if the Sheriff’s Department were to defer to the Coast Guard when ever any of these pangas come ashore. Let them deal with collecting evidence and disposing of the boats.

There is an old saying: “Those that make enemies of their Law Enforcement, had better make friends with their criminals.”