The Underwater Search Unit
Santa Clara County contains the southern most portions of San Francisco Bay, 139 rivers and slews, 313 small reservoirs and 21 large reservoirs. There are also hundreds of smaller ponds and rivers within the county.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Underwater Search Unit (USU), commonly referred to as the "Dive Team", was formed in September of 1965 and has since been available to all local and outside law enforcement agencies on a mutual aid basis.
The Sheriff’s Underwater Search Unit was developed to establish the capability for the underwater search of evidence, victims of water related incidents and removal of attractive nuisance items. The Sheriff’s Underwater Search Unit is the primary underwater search and recovery team in the county. Other police departments and government agencies needing underwater services generally call the Sheriff’s USU team. The service that the dive team members have provided since its inception in the 1960’s, is potentially one of the most dangerous duties offered to a volunteer group.
Members of the USU
The dive team consists of several Sergeants and Deputy Sheriffs. Assignment to the unit is on a volunteer basis. Minimum qualifications for assignment to the unit include certification as a Scuba diver. Unit members are then scheduled for Dive Rescue Specialist I class followed up by extensive training with the Unit. In order to maintain the degree of proficiency required for such a unit, ongoing (annual) training is a necessity.
Equipment for the USU
The Sheriff's Office provides all the members with updated high quality equipment. This equipment includes dry-suits, rescue quality air delivery systems, underwater video cameras, underwater metal detectors, sonar/navigation equipment, a fully equipped Zodiac boat with trailer, and a newly purchased Dive Van.
The USU, with the assistance of our Special Operations Division, has acquired additional high tech equipment from a state grant, specifically a new Side Scan Sonar, and new Underwater Communications Wireless System.
The USU does have a Remote Underwater Operated Vehicle (ROV) available to the team. Gary Trimble, from Lockheed Martin, has trained with our team and has volunteered his services with his company's ROV when needed.
Types of Call Outs for the USU
The function of the Dive Team is water rescues, including swift water rescues (i.e. victims caught in or stranded by rapid flood waters), recovery of drowning victims, and the collection of submerged evidence (such as vehicles, guns, and stolen property). Occasionally the Dive Team provides public relation services, such as placing nets underwater for children's fishing derbies. Although the Dive Team is trained in rescues, the opportunity is rare due to logistics. Most dives are recovery of evidence and/or cadavers in black water, zero visibility conditions, from depths of approximately 10 to 60 feet of water. The average scuba dive is usually 15 to 25 feet, however divers have had to dive to depths as deep as 150 feet.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Underwater Search Unit (Dive Team) may be requested by calling the Sheriff's Office Operations desk at 408-808-4400, or County Communication at 408-299-2311 and advising them of the nature of the request.
For information about the Sheriff's Office Underwater Search Unit contact Jim Helms via Sheriff's Operations, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.