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Police Officers Train for Underwater Investigation Work

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Feb. 13, 2008 — Seven V.I. Police officers bobbed about in dive suits and gear Tuesday in the St. Thomas Swimming Association's Nazareth Pool, ready for their first round of in-water instruction.
Looking on and chatting with the divers were Police Commissioner James McCall and C. Doug Jones, VIPD training director, taking obvious pride in their officers' progress.
"This is a first for us, said McCall, a certified diver himself, as he prowled the poolside. "It's something critical that I've been wanting to get started."
The dive training is part of the department's push to improve, with an eye toward getting accredited. Jones, a retired FBI agent, has several programs planned.
"We've started a proactive in-service training program, which will be part of the overall accreditation process," he said.
Chris Sawyer Diving Center in Red Hook is conducting the course. The volunteers have completed their classroom development and confined water skills emergency training in the last week. Before jumping in the pool Tuesday, they finished a quiz at the dive center.
Wednesday was their first day on the sea for their open-water dives in 40-foot water. They will do a 60-foot dive after that, Jones said.
"Within the next week, they will be certified in open water, and within 60 days, they will have completed their training" he said. And then, he said, they will be ready for high-level professional training from an elite corps.
The Underwater Crime Scene Investigation (USCI) team at Florida State University at Panama City will come to the territory for intensive training, which includes three two-week courses. The first covers the basic knowledge and skills required to respond to a local event. The second and third courses entail increasingly advanced training in dive technology and hazardous materials, as well as protocols for interagency integration and severe scenarios.
A 10-member team is also training on St. Croix, Jones said. Though seven volunteers were training on St. Thomas, it's a 10-man team, three of whom weren't available this week because of other commitments.
UCSI's Alpha Team is a group of select individuals from the fields of criminology, forensic science, underwater archaeology, ocean engineering and U.S. Navy diving leadership.
"Though the unit will focus on underwater crime scenes, it will of course be available for rescues," Jones said. The officers will be on their regular beats, but, he said, "They will all be on call, 24/7."
Meanwhile, the volunteers got their feet wet with instruction from professional divers Wayne Brandt and pint-sized Miki Bultman, who guided officers twice her size with a few smiles and lots of confidence.
"Remember," Brandt told the novices, holding up a mask, "never put your mask on your forehead. It get perspiration and salt on it and it will fog up. Let it hang around your neck."
He had the group's full attention as they struggled into their dive suits. A few of the volunteers already have dive experience. Cornel Espirit, a young man who joined the force in 2000, was clearly pleased with the program.
"I've seen the need for a long time," he said. "I'm delighted to be part of it. I've been diving from a teenager, but I didn't get certified until I was in a research diving course at UVI under Steve Prosterman. It was a requirement."
Adrien Huggins, a career officer, also expressed pleasure at the training.
"I've been certified since Hurricane Marilyn in 1995," he said. Huggins, a big, capable-looking officer, said he is a certified as a master diver.
The other volunteers are Derrick Greaves, James Dowe, Delvin Flemming, Calvin Industrious and Eddison Spratley.
"I've had numerous police officer come up to me since hearing about the training program and tell me how pleased they are," Jones said Wednesday. "They told me, 'We're glad you're here.' The officers in the V.I. want the training, and they are grateful to better serve our citizens."
With a laugh he added, "On Tuesday, I had one of the divers come up and he must have shaken my hand five or six times, thanking me for letting him in the program."
Training crews are scheduled to come in from police academies from all over the country.
"We will do training in advanced homicide and advanced interrogation and interview techniques," Jones said.
Those are just two of the courses he has planned. Another diving class is scheduled for July. Though Jones came aboard six or so months ago, he is no stranger to the territory.
"I've been coming here since 1972 as a young federal agent," he said. "I've been back on and off ever since, and my wife and I are moving back permanently now."
Because of his past experience with other federal agencies, Jones said, "They have pledged to give us as much help as they can."
The training is covered in the Fiscal Year 2008 budget.
Jones wasn't the only one pleased with the diving course.
"If these guys are representative of the VIPD, then we are in good shape," Chris Sawyer said. "They are nice guys, good guys, and they are thrilled to be here."
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