The tools law enforcement agencies use to investigate crimes and ensure public safety are critical to their success. Police departments and sheriffs offices around the country are adding underwater search equipment to ensure their dive teams have the proper equipment to safely and effectively do their jobs.
The two high tech tools in greatest demand are the side scan sonar and ROV. Sonar is one of most effective tools for underwater search and recovery (S&R) because it can scan large areas quickly and “see” what’s on the bottom regardless of water clarity. The ROV is a remote controlled underwater vehicle with cameras in front and rear. It takes the place of a diver; except is can descend to depths of 1,000 feet and stay submerged indefinitely.
Saratoga County Sheriffs Dept. in New York is one of the many agencies that have made the leap into this new technology. Last year Saratoga acquired JW Fishers SeaLion-2 ROV. This compact underwater vehicle can easily be deployed by one officer. The system controls and a 15 inch flat screen monitor are built into a rugged waterproof case. The operator commands the ROV’s four powerful thrusters, two 100 watt headlights, rear facing high intensity LED light ring, as well as the pan and tilt on both cameras using a hand-held PS-2 controller. The ROV assists in searching for drowning victims, locating evidence such as a weapon thrown into a waterway, and inspecting sites before deploying a diver,. The high resolution video cameras are also useful in filming underwater crime scenes. Recently the department upgraded the system’s capability by adding a scanning sonar, a manipulator arm and On Screen display of time, date, GPS, depth, and compass heading. The scanning sonar allows the ROV operator to “see” far beyond the range of the video cameras. The sonar produces detailed images of underwater objects up to 100 feet from the ROV. It can scan a path directly in front of the vehicle, or a complete circle around it. This tool is extremely helpful in guiding the ROV to targets in low visibility environments. Dive team leader Lt. Harry Siebert reports the ROV is used almost weekly in their S&R operations. “We’re very pleased with the ROV’s performance and how it has expanded our capabilities.”
A number of other departments have added Fishers side scan sonars to their team’s list of equipment including Otter Tail County Sheriffs Office in Minnesota and the New Bedford Police Department in Massachusetts. The sheriffs department chose the single frequency SSS-600K side scan as this sonar gave them the high resolution images needed to find small targets like drowning victims and weapons, and has the ability to scan a swath up to 400 feet wide, very helpful when searching for bigger targets like submerged vehicles or capsized pleasure craft. As an add on, they selected the Splashproof computer with ultrabright display, an essential item when operating from a small, open boat. The New Bedford team went with the dual frequency SSS-100K/600K side scan which provides both detailed images of high frequency combined with the longer scanning range of low frequency, an essential feature when searching large areas of open ocean looking for lost vessels or downed aircraft. The sonar is also an excellent tool to inspect ship’s hulls for contraband, or scanning piers and bulkheads looking for explosives. After completing the training session Sgt. Jill Simmons, a longtime member of the department’s port security team reports “We’re very impressed with the unit. The guys loved it! Our group was already using, and getting good results with Fishers towed video system and Pulse 8X metal detector. When it came time to purchase a side scan, Fishers system was the obvious choice.”
For more information on JW Fishers complete line of underwater search equipment go to www.jwfishers.com.