On Sunday, March 20, 2011, twelve members of the Dive Team were able to attend a lecture given at the Mantoloking Police Department on Underwater Evidence Recovery. Lt. John Barcus, a former member of the Squad and our current Liaison to the Mantoloking PD, delivered a very informative session sprinkled with real world scenarios and practical advice. Although the focus of the session was on firearms, it was made clear that many of the procedures and protocols apply to every underwater search and recovery operation..
Lt. Barcus outlined a general set of guidelines/sequence of events that should happen on any recovery dive call. The initial steps include contact with the Police OIC on arrival at a scene and a formal briefing from the Investigator. As every case is unique, knowing what you're looking for, where it is likely to be, and when and how it ended up in the water are all necesary. This baseline information will help in the planning of an efficent, safe search operation. When the initial search is conducted, the Police will defer to the Dive Team when it comes to actual dive protocols and safety management.. .
If evidence is located within the search zone, it is vital that the find initially be documented, but not disturbed. Instead, we are to mark the site and/or keep a diver with the evidence, and a diver should return to the surface for recontact with the Police. An Investigator will want to view evaluate photos or a video right then and there. He/she can then provide directives on how that particular piece of evidence needs to be handled in its recovery, both from a safety perspective and for the sake of maintaining its forensic value. Lt. Barcus had numerous firearms, some involved in actual cases, available for us to view and handle, and he demonstrated the proper ways to handle (and not handle) them, underwater or otherwise.. .
Lt. Barcus also discussed Chain of Custody issues when it comes to handling evidence. In general, the fewer hands from locating evidence to it being handed and signed over to an Investigator, the better. With a formal debriefing and the voluminous, obligatory documentation, even a session involving very little bottom time could run for a very long time when it's all said and done. Every case is unique, so you just don't know. However, if a criminal case's investigation is dependent on its forensic evidence, we'd like to think that we could provide a valid piece of the picture. Many thanks go to John and the rest of the Mantoloking Police Department. There might be too many crabs down there for him, but us and the PD are prepared to mutually support each other in an underwater evidence recovery..