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 homicide sergeant is often in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods, looking for clues before cases grow cold.
But in certain circumstances, a motorboat is exactly where his skills are needed.
He’s part of a small group: The Underwater Investigative Unit. It's made up of officers and detectives from across the department who scour local waterways looking for clues that criminals hope won’t ever be found under the dark and murky water.
Among the members is Sgt. Thomas Ricken, who works in the K-9 division.
"We primarily recover evidence. It can be a gun, a safe, a vehicle. That’s what we primarily do. We do recover bodies as well," said Ricken.
These recoveries don’t simply lead to closed cases. They also give closure to families.
The team has responded to the most high-profile tragedies, one of those being Kori Gauthier, the LSU graduate who jumped from the Mississippi River bridge in April 2021.
The team also assisted with the recovery of 16-year-old Osmar Escobar, who drowned near the L'Auberge Casino in September 2020.
"That day, we conducted search operations with multiple divers. We usually don’t continue a search after dark, just because we lose visibility of the diver and it puts the person in the water at great risk, but this night, we had the fire department out there helping us, and they put out lights. We continued the search in the dark and we were able to recover her son and give her some closure," said Fischer.
To perform these recovery operations, the dive team goes out once a month and trains for nearly 10 hours.
That was the task Thursday morning.
"It’s dangerous. What we do 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 train, the better you prepare for real-life situations," said Ricken.
At the LSU lakes, the vegetation is one of the many obstacles they face during recovery missions.
With safety in mind, the team is trained to respond to certain hand and rope signals after they disappear below the surface.
"The diver’s only sense of direction is a line that’s attached to their gear, so we know which direction the shore is and that gives us the ability to search," said Fischer.
"Different tugs mean different things for a different diver to do," said Ricken.
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.