Usually, when people think of policing, they picture the streets. There is not a lot of talk about underwater police work. With special certifications and ongoing training, there is a growing force of highly skilled public safety professionals who can solve crimes and conduct search and rescue specifically for the unique dangers and challenges of marine environments. Patrol areas may be coastal sea waters, harbors, lakes, rivers, and canals.
Marine police are responsible for the water safety of civilians, monitoring water traffic, crime prevention on vessels and shores, search and rescue and giving police reach of locations not accessible from land.
How Marine Policing Works
Underwater police work is designated to law enforcement marine units and dive teams. Marine police can access the water through diving, small watercraft, and even helicopters. Dive teams often use heavy equipment which is transported via a large police vehicle or a trailer.
Equipment ranges from small watercraft and inflatable boats to large seacrafts, but most often they use fast motorboats.
The gear they use averages 60 lbs. Divers have a dry suit for submerging in dirty water and a wet suit for clean water. Then they add the air tank, regulator hoses, buoyancy compensator, face mask, gloves, and fins.
Some agencies have divers respond directly from street duty. They have their scuba gear packed in their patrol SUVs. Arriving at the water’s edge they can suit up and dive in.
Training for Underwater Police Work
Training for marine police work requires much of the same thinking and strategy as street policing. Using “what ifs” is the practice of imagining any scenario that could possibly happen. So, training for even the most outlandish possibilities is necessary.
Police training is often cited as progressive and officers train as their life depends on it-which it often does.
Dangers and Challenges in Marine Policing
While all police work is dangerous, there are unique challenges to underwater policing that require extra attention. Riptides are one such danger.
Another challenge is doing police work on the water and having to work around civilian boaters, huge merchant marine ships, and giant cruise lines.
When a city is devastated by a hurricane you will see marine police out patrolling for signs of life on the submerged streets, which is dangerous in itself.
Underwater Crime Solving
Marine police have been able to solve crimes and find evidence that was disposed of in the water. Police divers can find it and process it just like any other evidence.
There are also underwater drug enforcement operations that search the hulls of ships for illegal drug trafficking. Drug cartels have been known to attempt hiding illegal narcotics in long-haul cargo ships.
Underwater Policing and the Environment
Underwater police play a large role in reporting and tagging underwater obstructions for removal and impound. They also facilitate the safe removal of sunken boats, keeping water channels free to navigate.
Homeland Security and Marine Policing
Post 9/11 saw an increase in awareness of the protection of U.S. waterways. The Department of Homeland Security evaluated the possible ways terror organizations could use waterways to sabotage U.S. citizens including supply chains.
This led to increased scrutiny of merchant shipping lines from all over the globe.
The federal administration allocated and authorized substantial funding to ensure that there was police present and on guard on U.S. shores around the clock and year-round. It led to police dive teams entering massive ships and searching hulls, props and other submerged areas for terrorist activities.
Many police agencies expanded or created port divisions where police are assigned full-time to the maritime shipping sector.
The Future of Underwater Policing
Even though dive teams are increasingly important, they can be difficult to pay for. The training and equipment can get quite expensive. To help reduce costs, some agencies rely on volunteer teams or create joint teams with other agencies. Some federal funds are available as well as fundraisers and grants from large corporations.
Despite the challenges, dive teams will continue to be essential to policing. As long as criminals toss guns off of bridges, and skaters go thru the ice, there will be divers at the ready to find the evidence or rescue the fallen.
About National Police Association
The National Police Association (NPA) is a 501(C)3 non-profit organization, EIN 82-0647764, founded to educate supporters of law enforcement in how to help police departments accomplish their goals. The National Poice Association works to bring national and local attention to the anti-police efforts challenging effective law enforcement, building public support for needed actions through public service announcements, legal filings, articles authored for the NPA by law enforcement experts, and the NPA Report. For additional information, please visit www.nationalpolice.org.