washingtonpost.com
Down Below: Diver

By Danny Freedman
Express
Monday, February 27, 2006 2:28 PM

OFFICER DAVID NUTTER, 36

JOB: Search and recovery diver in the Metropolitan Police Department's Harbor Patrol unit, based in Southwest D.C.

SALARY: Starting salary for D.C. police officers is $44,611; divers receive $3,000 annually for hazardous duty, said Nutter.

EDUCATION: High school

WHAT HE DOES: Nutter searches the muddy bottoms of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers for the bodies of drowning victims and bridge jumpers, cars that ran off the road, and sunken evidence, from guns and knives to wallets and keys. The waterways are so polluted, he said, that divers constantly dodge "snagging hazards," like construction debris and fishing line, and wear suits designed to avoid any contact with the water. The pollution also means zero visibility: Once Nutter sinks to the river bottom (usually around 15 feet to 35 feet down), he must scour the surface with only gloved hands. He relies on communications with police above for navigation and works methodically to ensure "every square inch" of a search area is examined. When not in the river, Nutter is on a boat patrolling the roughly 26 miles of water under the department's purview and responding to incidents, such as the crash earlier this year of a medical evacuation helicopter. A large part of his time is also spent enforcing boating laws and discussing water safety at schools and community events.

WOULD YOU WANT HIS JOB? It takes fortitude and a cool head to submerge yourself in the unknown. And the work can be grisly. "You can train, and train, and train, but to come across something like a body under the water -- you can't see -- it's really hard to describe," he said. "You never really lose that element of surprise when you come across something."

HOW YOU CAN GET HIS JOB: In the District, new officers need to work with the department for three years before they're eligible to apply to the special unit. Applicants must pass a gauntlet of physical endurance tests, which include treading water for 20 minutes and carrying (on land) about 100 pounds of diving equipment. Those accepted then undergo several weeks of specialized scuba training.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Police force requirements are listed at mpdc.dc.gov.

This article first appeared in the Express on October 10, 2005.

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