During the early 1950s, Theo Brown, a police officer with the Western Australia Police, who had training and experience as a diver, was utilised for body recovery and other diving tasks. He worked alone or with civilian volunteers at a dive site.
In 1958, another police officer, Bill Foster, approached the department to form a part-time squad of divers. This request was granted and seven police officers were selected and trained by the Underwater Explorers Club of Woodman's Point. Six weeks later, the squad was increased to 14 divers. Police divers provided all their own equipment at their own expense. WA Police, however, provided a Hookah and Medi-Air Cylinders for surface supply.
Unless diving duties arose, officers attached to the Dive Squad would carry out normal police functions in their respective positions. Once a month, a dive training day was organised for the divers to practice search techniques, and to carry out clearance dives on bridges and jetties, searching for stolen items, firearms or similar items.
One of the major tasks of the Squad in the 1960s, was the recovery of a rifle used by the multiple murderer Eric Edgar Cooke, off the then new Narrows Bridge. Divers located the firearm after 3 days of searching.
Today, the Dive Squad is an established part of the Western Australia Water Police. The squad consists of eight officers who have the role of conducting underwater operations. These include:
- Searching for persons, missing or believed missing, in water or in the vicinity of water;
- Search and recovery of evidence relating to the commission of offences;
- Search and recovery of evidence relating to coronial incidents;
- Recovery, examination and testing of equipment used in diving related deaths;
- Providing subject matter assistance in the investigation of diving related deaths;
- Preparation of reports to assist the Coroner in diving related deaths; and
- Security clearance dives in response to actual or possible criminal or terrorist activity.
Diving operations are conducted by a minimum of three members. One diver works below the surface, the second acts as the attendant to assist the diver and to direct signals from the Supervisor, and the third acts as Diving Supervisor, and works on the surface and is in complete control of the diving task.
Each police diver is issued with a complete set of personal diving equipment, which is their responsibility to maintain. This includes a tailor made professional wetsuit, fins, full face mask, snorkel, weight belt, gloves, knife, booties, underwater torch and dive watch/computer. It is up to the individual to make sure their equipment is cleaned, serviced and made ready for any emergencies.
The Diving Squad utilises a SCUBA twin set configuration for the majority of diving tasks that meet with Australian Standards by supplying the diver with an emergency alternative air source should he get into trouble.
Equipment not on issue such as ropes, cylinders, floats and lines, portable air cylinder filling compressors, Kirby Morgan 27B hats, hookah compressors, and all other associated equipment, is stowed in the diving store in a dry and ready condition for a quick response. The Dive Squad has state-of-the-art facilities, such as a heated drying room for wet equipment; a high speed compressor for quick cylinder fills; communications (voice) between diver and surface; and high powered search lighting for underwater and surface operations. The Dive Squad has a dedicated truck and vessel available for operations within the State at any time.
A high percentage of diving operations are performed in very hazardous and dangerous situations. The divers are often required to dive in adverse climatic conditions, nil visibility areas, and contaminated waters such as the upper Swan River, dams, caves, wells, mine shafts and sewerage ponds. The water temperatures can vary from the warm tropical waters to the cold southern inland lakes and dams.
The WA Police Dive Squad is constantly evolving to meet a changing policing environment. In 2007, the Dive Squad acquired a side scan and scanning (radial) sonar. These sonars are used to locate vessels, vehicles, aircraft, deceased persons and various other types of evidence. They are also used to conduct scans of all of the major ports within Western Australia, creating a library of sub-bottom images which can be used in the case of any security threat to these ports.
The major advantage of sonar is that a large area of water with nil visibility can be searched over a relatively short period of time. It reduces the need to expose police divers to prolonged periods underwater.