Idea of anti-police T-shirt was all wet, officers say

February 06, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

It was just a joke. So says Levin F. "Buddy" Harrison III, prominent Eastern Shore innkeeper, charter boat captain and convicted rockfishing violator.

But Maryland's Natural Resources Police, who enforce the state's fishing regulations, definitely are not amused. Some officers are so angry, in fact, that they want the public to boycott Mr. Harrison's businesses.

What has them steamed is a lewd T-shirt sold recently by one of Mr. Harrison's firms. The shirt ridicules the Natural Resources Police and suggests sinking the boats they use to patrol the Chesapeake Bay.

The shirts, marketed at the Mary land Watermen's Association annual trade show in Ocean City two weeks ago, carry the slogan: "Save a Maryland Waterman. Sink a Whaler."

The shirt has a drawing of a Boston Whaler with the word "Police" on the hull. In the vessel are two uniformed men, labeled with names usually unsuitable in a family newspaper. Suffice it to say that their monikers were inspired by the MTV cartoon characters "Beavis and Butt-head."

Mr. Harrison, whose family owns the Chesapeake House inn and restaurant on Tilghman Island, said that marketing the shirts had nothing to do with his arrest by Natural Resources Police on charges of illegal possession of seven rockfish out of season.

A Talbot District Court judge fined him $2,000 last year for that offense and made him take 100 youngsters out on the bay as part of his punishment.

"The whole thing was meant to be in jest," Mr. Harrison said last week of the T-shirt incident. "It wasn't meant to antagonize or create acrimony. . . . I'm sorry it happened."

Though his family's gift shop sold the shirts at the watermen's convention, they weren't his idea, Mr. Harrison said.

He said some watermen, whom he would not identify, asked him to sell the shirts and that he removed them from display after hearing complaints from a Natural Resources Police official attending the event.

'A very nice apology'

Mr. Harrison, a seafood dealer and licensed charter fishing captain, said he has since apologized orally and in writing to the Natural Resources Police and to Dr. Torrey C. Brown, the state secretary of natural resources.

"It was very, very bad judgment and stupid and too bad," Dr. Brown said. But he noted that Mr. Harrison had written "a very nice apology letter" taking responsibility.

Col. Franklin I. Wood, superintendent of the Natural Resources Police, called the shirts "inflammatory and derogatory." But he urged his department's 228 officers in a memo not to retaliate against watermen.

Colonel Wood pledged to "pursue this matter in the appropriate venue" but declined in an interview last week to say what actions he had recommended to Dr. Brown.

Other members of the force were more outspoken.

Wayne Engel, president of the Eastern Shore chapter of the Natural Resources Fraternal Order of Police, said that Mr. Harrison should be removed from the department's striped bass advisory board, which recommends fishing rules.

The Shore group also intends to ask other FOP chapters to consider boycotting Mr. Harrison's businesses, Mr. Engel said.

"Joke or not, that kind of sentiment just sends the wrong message," said William Bates, a Natural Re sources Police sergeant who is vice president of the state lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

He likened the T-shirts to the lyrics of rap musicians that talk about killing policemen, and he noted that police groups had called for boycotts of record companies producing those songs.

Sergeant Bates also questioned why the watermen's association allowed the shirts to be sold at their meeting, the 20th annual East Coast Commercial Fishermen's and Aquaculture Trade Exposition.

Larry W. Simns, president of the watermen's association, said that he asked Mr. Harrison to remove the shirts after receiving complaints from Natural Resources Police officers attending the show.

'Isolated thing

"Ninety-five percent of the watermen" have nothing against the police, Mr. Simns said. "It's an isolated thing, and it was done in good humor, not being nasty, but it was in bad taste."

Maryland's proudly independent watermen, who in earlier years traded gunfire with the "marine police," coexist more or less peacefully with the Natural Resources Police these days.

Colonel Wood said that intoxicated recreational boaters were responsible for most of the dozen or so assaults on his officers last year.

Dr. Brown said that he was satisfied with Mr. Harrison's apology and planned no further action.

The secretary said that the striped bass advisory committee Mr. Harrison belongs to has not met in a year and might never convene again.

"If we threw people off all the boards or commissions in the state of Maryland because they were stupid or used bad judgment, we wouldn't have very many people," Dr. Brown said.

"I harbor no resentment toward any of them," Mr. Harrison said of the Natural Resources Police. He noted that he had come to the aid of a police boat that nearly swamped during a storm on the bay last summer.

Mr. Simns said that he hopes the police groups get over the idea of boycotting Mr. Harrison's businesses, because that would "make things worse."

"Everybody's apologized," Mr. Simns said. "I think they should let it drop."

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