Vessel christened for Detroit harbor patrol

George Hunter
The Detroit News
The badge of Captain Kenneth 'Shark' Steil in front of the boat named after him.

Longtime Detroit police master diver Kenneth "Shark" Steil lay in a hospital bed nearly two years ago talking to Chief James Craig about the possibility of the Harbormaster getting its first new patrol vessel since 1986.

"We had a conversation about getting the new boat, and he was very excited about it," Craig said Wednesday. "We had been trying to get this vessel for a long time."

Steil, 46 who was wounded Sept. 12, 2016, while investigating a man who had shot his father and another man, never lived to see the christening of the new 36-foot' patrol boat. He died from his shotgun wounds the day he was planning to go home from the hospital.

The nearly $1 million vessel — "Shark" — was christened Wednesday by Steil's widow, JoAnn Steil, who broke a champagne bottle on the boat's starboard bow. 

Steil was assigned to the 9th Precinct Special Ops team, although on Wednesdays he still dived for the department. His former precinct captain, now Cmdr. Eric Decker, choked up during Wednesday's ceremony outside the Detroit-Wayne County Port Authority Building at Atwater and Bates.

"Ken led from the front for the less-experienced officers," Decker said. "He was my booster sergeant — except on Wednesdays. Those were the dive days, and there's no water in the 9th Precinct.

"On those days, I lost my booster sergeant, but Detroit got its shark," Decker said.

Craig said the Harbormaster addition, which brings the Harbormaster fleet to seven vessels, is part of an overall upgrade to the police department's vehicles.

"When I got here, there were problems with equipment; dilapidated squad cars that wouldn't start at crime scenes. When I made my first ride on a (Detroit police) boat, I said 'you've got to be kidding me.'

"In five years, our fleet looks nothing like it once did," Craig said. "We've gotten new vehicles, new SUVs ... now, the only ask I have is to get a helicopter. We have a 1972 helicopter that's held together by Scotch tape ... I would not go up in a Detroit police helicopter.

Ken Steil Sr. and Diana Steil, parents of Captain Kenneth Steil, attend the christening ceremony.

"People may ask 'why wouldn't you go up, but your officers go up?' That's because they're pilots," Craig said.

Deputy Chief Elvin Barren said the process of bidding on grants for the new vessel began in 2016. 

"This boat has advanced counter-terrorism capabilities," Barren said, adding for security reasons he couldn't divulge all the vessel's equipment. 

"Shark," which can reach speeds just under 50 mph, will serve as the department's main patrol boat, with three crew members assigned from the Harbormaster, Underwater Recovery, Special Response teams, Bomb Squad or Water Port Authority.

The Detroit color guard perform during the christening a new vessel on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 along the Detroit Rivefront.

On Sept. 12, 2016, Steil was part of a crew that responded to the sighting of Marquise Cromer, who had shot his father in the foot before carjacking a man in a Hamtramck car wash and shooting him in the stomach.

Cromer opened fire with a shotgun. Pellets hit Steil under his arm in an area not protected by his bulletproof vest. Although he fell, Steil continued firing his weapon at Cromer until he was captured by other officers.

JoAnn Steil,  wife of Captain Kenneth Steil, speaks with her two sons Alexander and William during a christening ceremony with Detroit Police Chief James Craig for a new Detroit Police Department vessel Wednesday.

Cromer was sentenced in February to 40-75 years in prison, after pleading guilty but mentally ill to second-degree murder.

Following Wednesday's ceremony, JoAnn Steil and her two sons, Alexander, 4, and William, 6, took a ride in the new vessel.

"There are more than 440 species of shark known to man," JoAnn Steil said. "Now we've just added another species. May God bless this vessel."
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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN