Diving into criminal investigations

CPSO officers train in murky SW La. waters as part of certification

Eighteen officers with the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office trained on Wednesday to become master underwater criminal investigators.

Divers practiced recovering a sanitized vehicle that was dumped and sank to the bottom of the dive pond. The car landed upside down, and the team had to attach lift bags to set the car right side up for investigation. This method preserves the integrity of the damage and helps investigators assess the wreckage more accurately.

“In the old days, we would use a wrecker and drag the car up, but that destroys the car and any physical evidence,” said Lt. Ron Johnson, with the marine enforcement unit.

Once the training is done, the sheriff’s dive team will be one of the few nationwide to have every diver certified as a master, Johnson said.

Johnson said the “next level divers” with CPSO’s marine response team have undergone years of training to successfully navigate and recover evidence in Southwest Louisiana’s murky waters.

“Diving is 100 percent self sufficient,” he said. “You have to be really confident in what you do. You have to be comfortable making choices underwater because one wrong breath can be life or death.”

Most of the water in Southwest Louisiana has a zero foot visibility and is also filled with debris and dangerous wildlife, he said.

“Concrete, rebarb, snakes, alligators — there are all kind of factors you have to be aware of for your safety and your codivers safety,” Johnson said.

The team has completed five official investigative dives this year and averages 12-18 underwater investigations annually. CPSO’s underwater criminal investigators also assist neighboring parishes with investigations, as well as the Coast Guard and other federal agencies when needed.

Most underwater investigations involve cars dumped for insurance fraud, robbery or drowning victims, Johnson said.

“Panic is our number the criminal in drowning,” he said. “Prepare in your mind mentally ahead of time.”

‘You have to be comfortable making choices underwater because one wrong breath can be life or death.’

Lt. Ron Johnson

Marine enforcement unit

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The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office Marine Division train using airbags to lift vehicles submerged underwater on Wednesday.

Rick Hickman

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