By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — They go largely unseen, but 24 hours a day, there are eyes on the bay. They’re looking for boats in trouble and boats breaking the law.

Alex DeMetrick reports they’re also watching out for police.

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Natural Resources Police have 1,200 miles of the Chesapeake and its tributaries to patrol—meaning NRP officers’ eyes can’ be everywhere but still they find poachers in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.

“It’s kind of surprising a lot of the times. How did we know they were here?” said Natural Resources Police Officer Greg Jilek.

This is how: a surveillance system called MLEIN. Originally built for Homeland Security to monitor the bay, it’s been picked up by Maryland law enforcement.

“We can see them on the radar and then confirm their activities with follow-up video,” said MLEIN project manager Tim Bowman.

Operating off towers scattered across the bay, radar tracks boats as small as 21 feet and that information is relayed to NRP officers on the water, along with close-up video and night vision of target areas—meaning a patrol boat can sit out of sight miles away from a potential lawbreaker.

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“It does give that sitback capability and observe,” Jilek said.

This surveillance system has an added benefit: the safety of officers a long way from home.

“We are able to track the NRP vessels across the Chesapeake Bay and some of its tributaries so officers are never really alone. There’s always somebody looking over their shoulder,” Bowman said.

“It’s a great tool for keeping us safe in the water,” Jilek said.

Especially as oyster season begins and patrols step up enforcement efforts, both seen and unseen.

Last oyster season, the new surveillance system helped NRP officers make 131 busts for illegal harvesting.

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