A deep dive into the Baton Rouge Police Department’s Underwater Investigation Unit
You won’t often find Detective Chris Fischer in a motorboat.
The BRPD s homicidemoney is often found in the most dangerous parts of town, looking for clues before the cases get cold.
But in certain circumstances, a motorboat is exactly where its skills are needed.
He is part of a small group: The Underwater Investigative Unit. It is made up of officers and detectives from across the department who scour local waterways for clues criminals hope never to find beneath the dark, murky water.
Among the members is Sgt. Thomas Ricken, who works in the K-9 division.
“We mainly recover evidence. It could be a gun, a safe, a vehicle. That’s what we mainly do. We also recover bodies,” Ricken said. .
These recoveries do not simply lead to closed cases. They also give closure to families.
The team has responded to the most publicized tragedies, one of them being Kori Gauthier, the LSU graduate who jumped from the Mississippi River Bridge in April 2021.
The team also assisted in the recovery of 16-year-old Osmar Escobar, who drowned near L’Auberge casino in September 2020.
“That day we conducted search operations with several divers. We usually don’t continue a search after dark, just because we lose visibility of the diver and that puts the person in the water. in great danger, but that night we had the firefighters help us and they turned off the lights. We continued the search in the dark and we were able to retrieve his son and give him a bit of a hard time,” Fischer said.
To perform these recovery operations, the dive team goes out once a month and trains for almost 10 hours.
That was the task on Thursday morning.
“It’s dangerous. What we’re doing is very dangerous. There’s zero visibility. You’re underwater and it’s not normal for a person to breathe underwater. The better you train, the more you practice, the better prepared you are for real-life situations,” says Ricken.
At LSU Lakes, vegetation is one of the many obstacles they face during recovery missions.
For safety, the team is trained to respond to certain hand and rope signals after they disappear below the surface.
“The diver’s only sense of orientation is a line attached to their gear, so we know which way the shore is and that gives us the ability to search,” Fischer said.
“Different tugs mean different things to a different diver,” Ricken said.
When a job is too risky for divers, boats come in and use sonar devices to continue the search, doing everything to get the job done while keeping safety a top priority.