NMSP Search and Recovery Dive Team
The New Mexico State Police Search and Recovery Dive Team was officially established in 1963, in response to increasing demands for law enforcement divers to respond to drownings and underwater recovery of property and evidence. New Mexico is primarily known as a desert state, but within its boundaries are numerous bodies of recreational waters, as well as thousands of miles of agricultural waterways and rivers, which are visited by thousands of citizens yearly.
The team itself evolved from a small group of State Police officers who volunteered to respond to these calls for service, and as a result found themselves traveling throughout the state at all times of the year, but particularly in the summertime. The demands on these few volunteer State Police divers soon became overwhelming, and other divers were sought in the department to supplement their efforts. In 1963, several State Police officers attended a Diver Certification Training School, and the New Mexico State Police Search and Recovery Dive Team was created, making New Mexico one of the first states in the union to have a law enforcement dive team. Almost all of the equipment used by these pioneer officers was personally owned and purchased.
To be eligible to qualify for the team, an officer must have successfully completed his two-year probationary period as a State Police officer, and must possess at least an Open-Water Diver certification. The officer, after applying for the team, is invited to one of the team’s two annual week-long training periods, and is observed and evaluated by the team’s command staff and the other members. Additionally, the candidate must successfully complete physical testing, including an 800-yard swim with mask, fins, and snorkel, and must satisfactorily demonstrate his proficiency in basic open water diving skills. After his or her first “check-out” school, the candidate’s membership on the team is determined by the team members, the Operations Commander, the Special Operations Bureau Commander, and, ultimately, the Chief of the New Mexico State Police.
Today’s team is very different from the early days. Officer/Divers are issued the most up-to-date equipment available by the department, and there is much greater emphasis on training. Here is an example of a typical Dive Team member’s department-issued equipment inventory:
- Two-piece 8mm wetsuit
- USIA Drysuit
- 2 Regulator Systems – 1 for ice diving; 1 for non-freezing environments
- Two 80 cubic foot/3000 psi compressed air tanks
- Neoprene Hood/Gloves/Booties
- Buoyancy Compensation Device (BCD)
- Ropes/Caribiners/Ice-Diving Harness
- Underwater lights and Compass
- Dive Computer (Wrist-style)
The Officer/Diver is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of this equipment, and it is kept perpetually ready for a call-out for a team mission. In addition to this equipment, the Dive Team also has larger items of equipment for team use placed throughout the state in strategic locations, usually at a State Police office near a large body of water. These items include:
- 2 USIA SAV II, Special Response Boats equipped with 225 cubic inch outboard motors
- 2 “Jon boats,” which are smaller, flat-bottomed boats usually used in smaller bodies of water or rivers
- Underwater communications equipment, consisting of full-face masks and attached transmitter/receivers capable of diver-diver or diver-surface communication
- 3 Underwater metal detectors
- 1 Underwater video camera
- 3 Portable/trailered air compressors
- 3 GPS locators
- 1 Underwater ROV or (Remote Operated Vehicle)
- 2 Superlite 27 Diving Helmet Haz-Mat Suits with surface supplied air
The mission of the State Police Dive Team has changed, also, throughout the years. Officer/Divers now receive training regularly, and most members possess advanced PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) ratings of Rescue Diver, Master Diver, Divemaster, or higher. Training is offered through the team, whose current Operations Command Staff are rated as PADI instructors, and is kept updated and refreshed though regular annual training sessions. The team currently undergoes training twice yearly. A one-week “Winter School” occurs in the winter months where divers undergo specialized ice-dive training underneath the frozen lakes of northern New Mexico. Another one-week “Summer School” occurs during June or July, where divers undergo training and refresh their skills in a more climate-friendly environment.
Some examples of specialty training provided to team members during the past few years include ice diving, underwater crime scene investigation, underwater crime scene photography, underwater mapping, black-water diving, drift/river diving, swift-water rescue, rappelling, and lift-bag exercises, to name a few. Due to the rigorous training, no serious injuries to any team member have occurred in its history. There have been some close calls – divers stuck between rocks, tangled up in their lines or in underwater tree branches in black water. But over the years team members have dove in deep waters, icy waters, black waters and rushing rivers without mishap.
The approach to the Dive Team missions themselves has also changed over the years. New Mexico State Police Dive Team members currently are trained to professionally handle any underwater or water-related crime scene, including the processing of the scene and its documentation. Officer/Divers respond to various types of missions, including drownings, homicides, evidence recovery, vehicle recovery, and citizen requests for assistance with the recovery of property. An average year will result in approximately thirty call-out missions for the team. By team policy, each mission requires at least three members to respond, and most missions require a minimum of five or more divers for proper resolution.
The current New Mexico State Police Dive Team consists of nineteen officers, stationed throughout the state, and continues with its mission to provide professional service to the citizenry of New Mexico. The team is active throughout the year, with members participating in major summer holidays on the lakes of the state, on boat patrol, interacting with the citizens and helping to create a greater awareness of water safety. All in all, the Dive Team provides an array of well-trained, professional officers, willing to go the extra step in the performance of their duties, and able to do so in an exceptional manner, for the citizens of New Mexico.