Since 9/11 nearly every unit in the NYPD has taken over counterterrorism duties, and the NYPD scuba team has taken on more than most. Criminal Justice Reporter Solana Pyne looks at how their job has changed in the following report.
It's about the size of a basketball and weighs less than ten pounds, but it's the latest high-tech addition to the NYPD scuba team's counter-terrorism arsenal.
"It enables us to get a virtual image of any devices before we send a diver down," says NYPD Sergeant John Harkins.
It's called a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV. It takes images with video and sonar, particularly important in New York's murky waterways. It's been routinely used by law enforcement to look under ships for illegal cargo, particularly drugs.
The NYPD also is using it to look for things that could do more damage. This is a fake bomb tied to a pier for training purposes.
"What the ROV would do is, we'd go to an area and we'd go down piling by piling looking for anything out of the ordinary, anything big sticking out," says Harkins.
That's something the divers themselves do daily. During their training, they inspect the Brooklyn Bridge piling. They also do systematic searches of the bottoms of incoming ships, using a rope as a pattern line.
Before 9/11 the team's main responsibilities were rescues and recovery operations, for people or wreckage, as well as underwater searches for evidence.
"[Police] Commissioner [Ray] Kelly has made our counterterrorism efforts at the NYPD department-wide and the harbor unit is no small part of that," says NYPD Deputy Inspector David Driscol.
To join the scuba team, officers must have at least three years on the force. Then they have to pass a physical exam they say is more rigorous than what's required to join the navy seals.
Members of the scuba team wear 90 pounds worth of equipment, including a dry suit that's resistant to pollution and a mask that allows them to talk to each other. They can get into the water from a boat, or even from a helicopter hovering above.
A team of divers is posted with an NYPD chopper 24 hours a day for air sea rescues. They're trained to jump out in full gear.
"They only have a matter of minutes to get suited up. So the divers have to be really familiar with their equipment," says Harkins.
Easier said than done. The team loaned me gear and let me take a test swim. It took at least ten minutes to get suited up, with lots of help. And I could barely pull myself out of the water.
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