In March, Matthew Ashton was sworn in as the new Chief Harbor Patrol officer by the Port San Luis Harbor District. Ashton brings 13 years of experience on the water to the lead position. He started his career in the United States Coast Guard (USCG), upon leaving active duty his rank was assistant engineering petty officer. He was looking into career options and leaning toward the military when he decided to go with the Coast Guard. Ashton said he felt that the skills learned in the USCG would transfer easier to civilian life. He spent 8 years of active duty and was last stationed in Morro Bay. After leaving active, duty Ashton was offered a position on the San Luis Harbor Patrol. He is still a USCG reservist.
One of the top priorities the new chief has focused on is hiring additional officers to bring the departments numbers up.
“A fully staffed department would have five officers and one chief, but right now I have myself, two officers and one that is on worker’s comp,” said Ashton.
In that past five years, the department has essentially hired and lost an entire department. “I’d like to fix that,” said Ashton.
The harbor patrol is in the process of hiring two new officers to bring it to a fully staffed department and have recently received funding to resurrect a reserve program.
“The idea behind that is not only to affect our staffing positively,” said Ashton, “but if we do need to recruit in the future, we [would] have these vetted employees essentially that we could put in that position if they wanted it.”
Historically, the officers were largely involved with search and rescue, though due to its somewhat isolated position, the harbor patrol is a multifaceted organization. Patrol officers also serve as a medical assistant and are trained in limited fire response. Additionally, with Avila’s growth of popularity as a tourist destination, there has been an increase in law enforcement requests from the community.
“We have consistently gotten busier every year, seeing more and more people and because of that we have had to adapt to that,” said Ashton. “Last year on paper was the biggest year we’ve had. Being understaffed, we haven’t cut corners, but we haven’t been able to put the time into things that we used to like boat training and that sort of thing. When we are fully staffed I want to get us back to what we used to be.”
Ashton is working on bringing the department’s policies up to date by utilizing Lexipol, a provider of policy management and training platforms for public safety organizations. He is also cultivating a relationship with the sheriff’s department and looking for opportunities where the two departments can optimize their training time together and building rapport with the public. “We go out of our way to be approachable, so that people know that we are here to help,” said Ashton.
The new chief is confident his department will be fully prepared to face the swells of people that come with the summer tide.
Editor’s Note: In previous editions, the Port San Luis Harbor District was incorrectly referred to as the San Luis Port Authority.
By Mark A. Diaz