Law Enforcement Agencies Perform Underwater Searches

Wednesday, February 09, 2005
The security of many countries is being threatened from sources within and outside of their borders. For the lawman, having the right tools in his crime fighting arsenal is often critical to an operation's success. Today, a new set of high tech tools help law enforcement agents perform underwater searches safer, and more effectively, than ever before. In their investigative operations police routinely search for weapons used in the commission of crimes, hunt for drowning victims, and survey underwater structures looking for smuggled goods or explosives. For the police diver, one of his most effective weapons is the underwater metal detector. Used in evidence recovery operations, these detectors have been directly responsible for putting many criminals behind bars. In one recent case Connecticut State Police divers, assisting the Pennsylvania State Police, searched for a handgun used in a homicide. The suspect had thrown the gun from a bridge just outside of Pittsburgh. "Criminals often dispose of their weapons in lakes and rivers thinking they will never be found", says Sgt. Justin Kelly of the CT dive team. "Using our Pulse 8X detector, we actually recovered four handguns that day, including the one we were searching for." Another popular tool with police departments, sheriffs offices, and dive rescue groups is side scan sonar. Often used to locate drowning victims, these high tech sonars allow large areas to be searched quickly. Side scans "remove the water" and produce a picture of what's on the river, lake, or ocean bottom. These systems can eliminate the need to dive in difficult or dangerous conditions. Terry Tsui of the Hong Kong fire department says of their recently purchased Fisher side scan, "The sonar has been indispensable in our searches for drowning victims in the low visibility, fast moving waters around the island." In addition to body searches, side scans are also very useful in viewing underwater structures and searching for explosives, like mines, that may be anchored to the bottom. Underwater cameras are also in wide use by law enforcement dive teams and county rescue squads. A camera can pre-inspect an underwater site before divers are deployed. The team then knows exactly what they're getting into. In many cases, the underwater camera can perform much of the site survey, with divers being deployed only when the lost object has been found and is ready to be recovered. The Philadelphia Police Marine Unit's Lt. George Ondrejka said, "Our Fisher SeaLion has really reduced the amount of time our divers spend in the water. We recently had to search for a handgun and the majority of the search was conducted with the ROV." Sgt. Wayne Talbot of the Missouri State Water Patrol says, "Our Fisher TOV-1 towed video system makes it easy to search areas with low visibility and deeper depths, which helps minimize the risk to our divers. The TOV-1 has been extremely helpful."
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