The Australian policing system is structured on a state-by-state basis, with 8 police organisations across the nation responsible for the traditional role of keeping peace and order in the community and preventing and detecting crimes against the person.
Each of the Australian state police forces has a professional dive squad whose responsibility is to undertake underwater search and rescue, recovery, crime scene investigations, and sometimes coastal security.
The role of the police diver is wide in scope, but is fundamentally the search for and recovery of bodies and objects. The size and complexity of the objects recovered vary significantly and will dramatically affect the type of equipment used by police divers. The majority of police diving takes place in zero visibility and often in depths shallower than 10 metres. Diving locations vary significantly from water tanks to fully contaminated water. Whilst the conditions in most instances will be reasonable, police divers may be asked to enter water conditions that are extreme or challenging if there is a potential to save life or a recovery is necessary.
In many cases the diving is relatively straight forward and most dives are done without the need for decompression. Searches are normally undertaken using line signal controlled search techniques. Whilst a variety of equipment is used many dives are undertaken on scuba. Police diving is often aligned to other search methods such as sonar and remote operated vehicle work.
Police divers are usually police officers first and then divers later. As such they have all the responsibilities that are bestowed upon a police officer as well as those added by the specific nature of their work. In some forces divers will hold multiple roles and diving will only make up part of their day-to-day work.
As we move into this post-9/11, 21st Century world the responsibilities of the police dive squads are being extended to include anti-smuggling, counter terrorism and critical infrastructure security roles. Many of the squads have appointed additional staff and are acquiring new and sophisticated high-tech equipment to make the counter-terrorism and critical port infrastructure protection capabilities of the police diver more effective in this new threat environment.
Police divers sometimes have the very difficult task of dealing with the relatives of drowning victims and those affected by crime. They are asked to cope with scenes and situations that many will find to be traumatic or even gruesome. As a minimum this occupation will require commitment to a high degree of professionalism at all times.
Appointment to the police dive squads is highly sought after and entry to the squads has historically been very competitive, and selection procedures both physically and mental demanding with only the most highly skilled and determined applicants being accepted.
This is one of the few types of commercial diving that offers divers the opportunity to save life – whilst not a common occurrence, certainly a highlight.
Other highlights include the opportunity to contribute specialist skills to major police investigations and be responsible for the location of critical evidence required to prosecute offenders or prevent catastrophe.
Although there is some variation between the various squads, members are generally trained and certified as ADAS Part 1:Occupational SCUBA Diver to 30m and ADAS Part 2R:Restricted SSBA Diver to 30m or Part 3R: Restricted SSBA Diver to 50m divers using surface supplied equipment on air to 30 or 50 metres respectively. The process may vary in detail from squad to squad, but will certainly include physical fitness testing, a task-suitability assessment and then a rigorously assessed training program.
ADAS Accredited Training Establishments offering Police Diving training:
The police diving courses are mapped against the ADAS competency standard, and the major police dive squads are accredited as ADAS Diver Training Establishments, so that at the completion of the training, their candidates are eligible for ADAS occupational diver certification. This would allow divers to move into any of the other commercial diving environments for which they are qualified. Within the squads, divers tend to move on to supervisory and management roles either within diving or beyond.