DNR unveils new dive team for West Virginia

HINTON, W.Va. — When Colonel Bobby Cales took the reins of the West Virginia Natural Resources Police he had several ideas for specialized teams. One of those was a trained team of divers within the agency. Wednesday, the Division of Natural Resources unveiled the team for Gov. Jim Justice.

“Part of my vision when I was appointed as the Colonel was to standup an active and tactical dive team with members trained in underwater aquatics to better serve our citizens by providing a service for water borne incidents,” said Cales.

The team is made up of 10 DNR police officers. (Photo/Gov’s Office)

The team consists of 10 Natural Resources police officers. The group volunteered for the detail and went through a series of demanding physical fitness tests and interviews before being selected for the program. They were trained by diving instructors with the South Carolina DNR, which according to Cales came as a stroke of luck.

“Officer J.B. Smith was with the South Carolina DNR, but his wife was hired at WVU and that allowed him to come to work for us,” said Cales.

Smith’s interest in the program fueled its development along with the alliance with South Carolina whose dive team has a long history of success. Smith is now a member of the West Virginia dive team.

The Natural Resources Police are the agency charged with law enforcement on the water in the Mountain State. They’re also responsible for all water related investigations. Cales believed the dive team was a natural extension of the responsibility.

“The service this is going to provide for the state is an unmet need in my opinion through our agency. We should have been doing this for years,” he explained.

Captain Michael Lott of DNR District 2 in Romney will command the team which has statewide jurisdiction and will be available for any water related issue anywhere in the state.

“We can do anything from small item recovery all they way up to things like vehicles. If somebody commits a crime and throws the shell casings in the water, we can recover the shell casings,” he explained.

The same goes for weapons which are potentially tied to a crime and wind up tossed into the water. It will be an added advantage since all of the divers are certified law enforcement and are trained in evidence recovery and handling.

“Because we’re certified officers, the chain of custody of evidence never leaves law enforcement. If we have to get a diver who is a private citizen or a local volunteer firemen, then that becomes part of the evidence chain of custody and it can get complicated when it gets into the courts,” Lott added.

Lott added they’ll be able to also respond quickly and are trained for body recovery in the event of drownings. Currently the process involves waiting for a body to naturally surface, which can take days or longer. The dive team will be able to make the recovery faster and cut short the difficult period of anguish for grieving family members of victims.

The team is now available to all law enforcement and rescue organizations in all 55 counties. Lott said they’ve already had several calls, but until now they had to turn them down since they weren’t fully trained. The training process is now complete and they’re available, just in time for the 4th of July.

Cales developed the dive team along with the agency’s K-9 program and helped to enhance and grow the swift water rescue team since becoming the agency’s Colonel.

“We are the responding law enforcement officers equipped and trained to perform all of these duties,” said Cales.

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