The deep lessons of underwater evidence recovery

Not many classes end with a final exam in cloudy, 67-degree water.

But those are perfect conditions for the last days of a phase-one, public-safety diving course offered by Western Colorado Community College.

The course is one of three in a public-safety diving program that debuted in the fall at the college and is the first public-safety diving program in Colorado to offer college credit. Other classes in the program, which is geared toward future law enforcement and science investigators interested in underwater evidence recovery, include a homicide, drowning investigation and a rapid diver deployment class.

Program coordinator Bo Tibbetts, who also teaches private classes on safe SCUBA diving in hazardous or blackout conditions through his company Public Safety Diving Services, said the WCCC program shows students:

uE06E How to guess what are potential crime-scene items without being able to see them in foggy water.

uE06E How to avoid hazardous entanglements such as fishing wire.

uE06E How to dive safely in water contaminated with substances such as vehicle fluids.

uE06E How to conduct an investigation without damaging evidence or a crime scene.

“When we train our law enforcement officials, we train them how to investigate on land. When it comes to water, they don’t know what to do,” Tibbetts said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have to do things in a methodical manner.”

The phase-one course, the first in the program, involves learning from a textbook and trying techniques in the Mesa State College pool while wearing dry suits, full face masks and air tanks.

The three students finishing up the half-semester, four-credit class will have to perform a check list of safety maneuvers Saturday and Sunday as part of a final at Bonneville Seabase diving area in Grantsville, Utah.

The students include 19-year-old Chris Armstrong and 20-year-old Jared Kennedy, who enrolled in the program to supplement their criminal justice majors, and 47-year-old Kent Eddy, who decided to enroll in the program after graduating from the local Peace Officer Standards and Training Academy in November.

Eddy moved to Grand Junction last year from Hawaii and has been a diver for 27 years. The first seven and a half of those years he learned diving techniques as a Navy Seal, but he said he still has plenty to learn from the program.

“The technology has changed,” Eddy said. “You have to stay sharp.”

Tibbetts believes students can expand their career goals because of the program.

“With the economy, students are having to approach their careers a bit different,” Tibbetts said. “I think a lot of them are wanting to pick up additional skill sets that make them more marketable.”

Spokeswomen Heather Benjamin and Kate Porras of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department and Grand Junction Police Department, respectively, said having the program on a resume won’t clinch a job at either department for a candidate. But it doesn’t hurt.

“Certainly in hiring someone it could play into their capabilities, but just because they have that one course doesn’t guarantee it will put them over the top,” Porras said.

“We have to look at the whole package as far as what they have to offer,” Porras said.


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