Breaking News
Police Shortage Hits Critical Mass         Troopers Accused in OT Scam         DROP Lawsuit: Judge Rules Against Cops         The Real Reason They’re After Your Pension? Money!         DROP Program Getting Negative Press         Millennials, White-collar Workers Bringing New Life to Unions         New Study Reveals Police Rarely Use Force         Fake Cop Badges are Everywhere         Best Path for a Trim, Healthy Body         Teachers Get 5% After Strike; Victory for Cops, Too!         When is Police “Use of Force” Justified?         Police Unions & the Video Craze         Scary Day for Police Unions         Night Tours Can Hurt Your Health         Stress Weakens Brain Power; Exercise Can Bring It Back         Police Association President Arrests Suspect—On His Street!         An Assault on Common Sense         NYPD Sergeant Acquitted On All Charges         Fingerprint Scanner to Track On-the-job Time         New Jersey Cops Fighting for Their Pensions         Police and Attorney Say “No Way” to Restrictive Use of Force Policy         Jury Is Out On This Police Review Board         A Police Union With Power!         Stressed-Out Officers: Gone After Eight Years         More Union Members in 2017         Police, Fire Lose Court Fight Over Pensions         Baltimore Discovers It Wants and Needs Its Police         VIDEO: Austin Cops Leaving in Droves         Off-Duty Jobs Scam Uncovered         Deputies Demand $500,000 In Back Pay         Stressed Out Officers, Gone After 8 Years         City Scrambles to Save Pensions         Police Boss Gets Jail Time, Rank and File Up In Arms         CONTRACT REJECTED! Younger Officers Upset With High Healthcare Costs         Police Pensions Protected (For Now)         Let’s Support Firefighters; Cops Will Be Next         Man With a Plan         FBI Will Not Investigate Detective’s Homicide         What About “Warning Shots?” The Debate Continues         Dallas 9-1-1 Back On Track         Hope for Pay Raises in St. Louis         VIDEO: NYC Hero Cop Speaks         New Policies on Deadly Force         ALADS Continues Legal Fight Over “Brady” List         Cops Forgo Raise to Keep 4-3 Schedule         One Cop’s Take On Colin Kaepernick         VIDEO: “We Brought Our Brother Home”         LISTEN: No Sleep? You’d Better Fix That!         VIDEO: What Really Happened         ACLU: Detective’s Right to Free Speech Was Violated         Time To Stop the Finger Pointing         If Things Go Bad, You Need a Plan         Dear Anthem Protesters: Police are Not the Enemy         Real Police Facing Private Takeover         Hard Work, Heartache, and a Lot of Love         VIDEO: Harvey’s Horrific Aftermath         VIDEO: Keeping World Leaders Safe         Bill Bratton On the Future of American Policing         Who Will Pay for New Contract?         VIDEO: Detectives Fight Plan to Cut Pensions         Taking Care of Others, Then Our Own         Public Support For Unions is Growing         Minneapolis Considering Residency Incentives         VIDEO: Cop Battling Cancer is Harvey Hero         VIDEO: Dancing With the Cops?         Cops Speak Out Against Use of “Thin Blue Line” by Hate Groups         What Is the Arnold Foundation Hiding?         Decision May Violate Officers’ Rights         Court Deems Evergreen Clause Constitutional         No Raises for Cops; $140M for Stadium         Philly Cops Win $8M O.T. Settlement         We Condemn Nazis and White Supremacists         Mounties Face Crisis, No Solution in Sight         Push to Oust Louisville PD Chief Intensifying         CSLEA is Newest Member of PubSecAlliance         Ford is Fixing the Problem         “It’s Been An Honor to Work With Chief Marshman”         Automatic Dues Collection Under Attack         Cops Use Video to Go for Pay Raise         Understaffed Leads to Rise In Crime         R.I.P. Deputy Haak         Ruling On Body Cams: Use Must Be Negotiated         Rochester Police Locust Club (NY) Joins PubSecAlliance         Officer Acquitted Of Negligent Homicide         Texas Cops Oppose Anti-Union Bill         Insults Divide, Decency Unites         FOP Prez Threatened, Police Investigate         VIDEO: Sergeant’s Indictment Prompts Outpouring of Support         VIDEO: Sounding the Alarm On a Manpower Crisis         VIDEO: Dramatic Body Cam Footage!         VIDEO: Police Union Advises Action Amid “Breaking Point”         VT First State to OK Compensation for PTSD         Officer Suicides: Agencies Must Do More         Outsiders Clamor for Police Contract Changes         Governor Furloughs Workers, Hits the Beach         Recruit the Best at U.S. Army Reserves         VIDEO: Sergeant Charged With Murder 2         R.I.P. Officer Korchak         More Officers Taking Own Lives         Pride in Honoring Our Own         A Tale of Two Chiefs         New Accountability System Gives Civilians More Power         Police Unions Call for “Rational Voice”         Texas Moves to Save Pensions         City Refuses to Pay Officer’s Legal Bills         Rank and File Question Dubious Hiring         The Mounties Have Never Had to Contend With a Union         Police Week: Anguish, Anger, Empathy         Rookies Sue for OT Pay During Academy Training         FLSA Pay Ruling: Use Cash, Not Benefits         Record Crowd Attends Annual Candlelight Vigil         Everyone Needs Sleep, Especially Cops         Questions Raised About New John Jay President         Hennepin County Sheriff Joins NYPD Shield Program         Big Surprise: Paper Misrepresents Contract Talks         County Budget Leaves Us Underfunded         VIDEO: Omaha Unions Say No to Gov         City Says “No Police Floats” In Parade         One-Minute Man         Is This the Solution to Cop Shootings?         Ingredients for Better LE Outcomes         Why the Police Need Unions         Mounties Demand a Union & Contract         Indebted to Some Very Brave People         We’ve Been Abandoned by Politicos, Command Staff         VIDEO: The Most Hated Man In Pensionland         Underfunded Pensions: a Disaster Waiting to Happen         Another Ambush Attack!         Today, It’s You; Tomorrow, It’s a Security Guard         VIDEO: NJ Police May Get Control of Unfunded Pensions         Thousands of Officers to Get BIG Bonuses         Improving Economy Hurts LE Recruitment         Another Fundraising Scam         Threats to Police Retirement Programs Escalate         Conflict Rises, Billboards Go Up         NJ Unilaterally Changing Police Contract         Pensions Slowly Being Reduced and Replaced         Baltimore Chief: “No More Plainclothes”         When Will All This Stop?         Top Police Union Leader Joins Protest         VIDEO: “Line of Duty” is HERE!         Chicago Cops Get Thanks They Deserve         Mayors Missing as Pension Fund Goes Down         Pension Bill Draws Protest         Deputies Association Hires High-Powered PR Exec         Finally, a Contract for NYPD Officers         Nebraska Corrections Officers Seek Out F.O.P.         Outrage Grows Over Pension Plans in Peril         Sanctuary Cities: Police vs. Mayor         Police Unions Seek to Overhaul Obama’s Reforms         Super Bowl Security         Look Hard at Your Pension Fund         Pension Mediation Talks Cease; Lawsuit Looms         How Much Would You Pay for Policing?         Hazardous Workplace         Officers Leaving in Droves         Technology, Police, and Privacy         Fake Guns Destroy Lives         War Against Unions Gaining Ground         Washington D.C. Police Union in Turmoil         Teamsters Face 20% Cut in Pension Benefits         Body Cam Screw-ups Lead to Mistrial         VIDEO: Body Cam Catches Shootout         Restraining Order for Black Lives Matter Leader         New Chief Has Fight On His Hands         Pension Panic Spreads         Carrots and Sticks         Another Agency May Fold         Community and Police Join in Prayer         VIDEO: We Are There For You!         Feds Seek Repeat of Disastrous Police Hiring Practices         VIDEO: Officer’s Gift of Kindness Keeps on Giving         Is Trump Going After Collective Bargaining Rights?         Police Union Not “App”y         Police Union Fights Back Against Budget Cuts         Police Union Reinstates Body Cam Program         Citizen Wants Officer Fired for FB Post         VIDEO: Use of Force Policy Fiasco         Attacks on Law Enforcement         VIDEO: Where Is the Outrage?         Millions May Lose Overtime Pay         Mayor Violates Officer’s Right to Due Process         VIDEO: Police Union Heals With Song         State Moves to Nix Benefits From Collective Bargaining         City, Officer Cleared in Wrongful Death Case         Trump Puts OT, Benefits On Chopping Block         VIDEO: A World Without Law Enforcement         VIDEO: Shake It Off         HUGE Refund for AZ Public-Safety Pensioners         Eloquent Goodbye         Cheerleader In Chief         The Trouble With Trauma         Shocking News About Local Gov Pension Funds         See You In Court!         One of the Good Guys         Chief Resigns After No-Confidence Vote         Zika Virus Hits Cops         Iowa Officers Ambushed         Policing the Police         For Real Community Policing, Let Officers Do Their Jobs        
By November 20, 2013 Read More →

For cops, diving is dangerous business

One only has to check out this video about the recent death of Nicholas Mevoli, the Brooklyn diver whose lungs collapsed after he tried to break a record, to see how dangerous this activity really is. Almost everywhere officers don a uniform and strap on a firearm, they are called upon to dive to rescue victims who are in danger of drowning. Here’s just one story of an experienced officer – the NYPD’s Rich Miller – who almost died after he went back in for a third time to search for a boy who disappeared in the murky, treacherous  waters of the Bronx River. From the pages of the book Brave Hearts: Extraordinary Stories of Pride, Pain and Courage by American Police Beat Publisher Cynthia Brown.



Rich Miller with his youngest son, Richie in 2009. The boy Rich was diving to save and his son were very close in age.

By 2005, Rich Miller had participated in over two dozen rescues of victims who found themselves submerged somewhere in the five hundred miles of water that surrounds New York City. But this dive would prove to be the most difficult this experienced officer had ever undertaken.

From the pages of Brave Hearts: Extraordinary Stories of Pride, Pain and Courage by Cynthia Brown.

Every officer assigned to the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit is a certified rescue diver. The training is extensive as scuba officers learn to dive in sludge, mud, vegetation, cold water, strong currents, poor visibility, rough seas and every kind of debris imaginable. By 2005, Rich Miller had participated in over two dozen rescues of victims who found themselves submerged somewhere in the five hundred miles of water that surrounds New York City.

It was a hot and humid day in June of 2005. Around three-thirty in the afternoon, someone called 911. The caller was hysterical and it was difficult for the operator to understand what she was saying. As best as she could determine, two boys and a girl had been fooling around on a makeshift raft on the Bronx River when it capsized. One of the kids was missing.

“Every cop assigned to Emergency Service was familiar with this area of the Bronx River,” Rich said. “The currents are strong and it’s totally off limits for swimming.”

He was working as a chauffeur that day. The chauffeur’s job goes to the most senior ESU officer on the six-person team. He or she is responsible for handing off the lines, tanks, dry suits and other equipment. They work with the commanders to coordinate the response.

“When we went over the Bruckner Bridge, we saw a spot where a crowd was gathering on the shore,” Rich remembered. “We wanted to get the truck right down next to the water, but we discovered there was a cement processing facility with a heavy chain link fence blocking our way. We decided we couldn’t wait. Ben Kalinsky retrieved some bolt cutters out of the truck and cut an opening through the gate.”

There was a paved road down to the water, but they were still forty feet away when they ran into several cement barriers. Rich and the four divers jumped out of the truck and ran to the water.
“When we got down there, the girl who had been on the raft with the two boys was standing waist deep in the water. She was screaming, ‘He’s out there. He’s out there.’ She was pointing to the place she thought she last saw him.”

When the officers asked her if she was sure about the location, there was no doubt in her mind. “That’s where he went down,” she said.

The job ahead was complicated and the cops moved fast. When children are involved, there is always an added sense of urgency for responders.

“You eyeball where you’re going to work,” Rich explained. “Then you mark the area for the search. You put out the lines in a Z pattern. Each line has to be pulled tight. It’s not easy to do but most times it is very effective.

“Once the lines are set, the divers swim out. The first one in the water goes to the furthest point on the tender. When they’re all in position, they dive down to the bottom and dump some air out of their dry suits to get the right buoyancy. If they don’t get it right, there will be trouble staying on the bottom. When the diver is ready to go, he pulls on the line twice. That signals to the person on shore he’s ready to go. If the line is slack, the person on land won’t get the signal and that can get dangerous. One pull means the diver is okay. Two indicates he is ready to go. Three tugs signals he’s started his search to the right. Four pulls, he’s gone to the left. Five or more pulls means the diver is in trouble or for some other reason the search needs to be stopped.”

Setting up the lines takes a lot of practice, especially if there is a drowning victim. Rescues in the Bronx River are particularly challenging. One experienced diver compared the bottom to a giant underwater yard sale. “It’s hard to describe to someone who’s never been down there,” he said. “There’s cars, shopping carts, tires, old engines, and all kinds of machinery. Everything is encased in globs of mud. It’s easy to get caught in that stuff so we always carry one knife, sometimes two, along with wire cutters and other tools in case we get tangled up.”

“These are murky, muddy waters,” Rich added. “When the sun shines on the mud, it can be blinding. We usually don’t get a choice, but if you gave us one, we would much rather dive at night because the visibility is so much better. The ambient light during the evening lights up the water. There’s less glare.

“Once the lines are set and we’ve checked to make sure they are taut, we send the divers out. The first diver swings out to the furthest point on the tender and descends until he’s flat on the bottom. The only way divers can communicate is by tugging on the line. As long as the diver is not too buoyant, he will be able to stay on the bottom, follow the line and search the area methodically. You need a lot of divers to do this kind of search. We were fortunate that two other ESU trucks showed up to help us.”

Despite the extensive training police divers receive and the monumental effort they make, things can and do go wrong. That day the divers had several things working against them. The witnesses were confused about where they last saw the boy. There was an incoming tide that would eventually make some of the areas so deep there was a good possibility divers would run out of air while they were conducting their search. And last but not least, the crew was relatively inexperienced in the arduous task of scuba rescues.

From his vantage point on the shore, it was not long before Rich could see the divers were struggling. “I could tell their buoyancy wasn’t right,” he said. “They were having trouble staying down. I pulled on the line once to get their attention. When they surfaced I waved them in. As they swam into shore, the people on the shoreline, started yelling, ‘No, no, no. Go back out.  He went down over there.’ Everyone was pointing in different directions.”

When the divers got to shore, Rich told them to concentrate on what they had to do. He was playing the role of a coach except the objective was a lot more important than winning a game. “I told them to go back out, take their time and get their buoyancy correct.”

By that time it was getting dark. They had been diving for hours and any hope they would find the boy alive was dwindling. The divers picked up their pace, but as they methodically approached the shore, there was something else they had to deal with. Ten feet out from the shore there was a big drop off, an area that had been dredged out for barges.

“At high tide it’s very deep,” Rich said. “You had to dive much deeper than forty feet to get to the bottom. I started to worry about the divers. Since September 11 we had an influx of new officers with less experience than I had as a rookie ESU cop. These scuba rescues require an enormous amount of practice and I was getting worried.”

If regular ESU protocols are followed, the chauffeur is not supposed to dive. But at some point Rich felt he had no choice. Lieutenant Joe Goff was the highest ranking officer on the scene. He agreed Rich should go in.

Rich suited up and began his search back and forth following the Z pattern. He started out at the furthest point and angled back. The visibility was close to zero. As he felt his way along the bottom he was careful not to tear his dry suit. He had ripped it several times in the past and he was not eager to deal with the myriad of skin infections and diarrhea that is almost a given when coming into direct contact with the waters off the coastline of New York City.

When his tank was almost empty, Rich swam in, grabbed a full one and went back out. Experts say divers should never go out more than twice. Anything beyond two is considered life threatening for the diver. By the time he finished his second dive, Rich was totally exhausted. They had been at it so long, the tide had come in and was now on its way out. Along with hundreds of bystanders, there were fire trucks, scores of police cars, and ESU trucks. NYPD Air Sea Rescue helicopters had flown in and were circling over head. Their divers started their own pattern dives after dropping lines from a helicopter and several boats from the NYPD Harbor Patrol idled anxiously outside the search area.

After finishing his second search, Rich swam to shore. He found a stump on the beach  and sat down. “I couldn’t understand how we missed him,” he said.

Veteran ESU Officer Richie Gundacker brought Rich some water and pointed to two men sitting nearby in the sand. “The one on the left is the Dad,” Richie said.

Rich got up off the stump and walked over so he was in earshot. He tried to hear what the men were saying, but he only got bits and pieces.

“It was terrible,” he said. “I could hear the father reminiscing about his recent birthday with his son. He was asking his friend how God would let this happen.”

Five years later, Rich Miller’s eyes still fill with tears when he tells the story.

He was spent, but after listening to the grieving father, Rich felt he had no choice. If he couldn’t save the boy’s life, at least he could find his body.

As he swam out, his arms felt dead and his legs were cramping up. He found the line, tucked his head down, thrust his legs out behind him, and dove. When he got to the bottom, he let out some air and began to inch his way along the bottom.

He can’t say exactly when he knew there was something terribly wrong. It could have been seconds or maybe it was minutes. All he remembers was at some point he found himself tangled up in some sort of plastic netting. He struggled to find the line and pulled hard on it once but it was slack. That meant the officers on shore had no way to know he was in trouble. His only option was to cut himself free of the netting that was slowly but surely strangling him.

“I went for my knife, but it wasn’t there,” Rich said. “Later I realized I must have left it on shore after the second dive. That’s what happens when you get tired. You start screwing up, forgetting your equipment, panicking instead of staying calm.”

When he checked his tank, he discovered he only had five hundred pounds of air left.  He feared the worst. “I thought this is it. I’m not going to get out. After all the things I’ve survived, I couldn’t believe I was going to die because I got tangled up in a construction net.”

The harder he fought to break free, the worse it got.

When he first got tangled, he was praying for a rescue, but now things were so bad, he was worried anyone who came out to help him would get caught up too. “I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt out there,” he said.

Dragging the netting and debris, with the air in his tank getting dangerously low, Rich clawed his way along the bottom towards shore. He didn’t have the energy to keep on going but he was aware if he died, his death would occur on his youngest son Richie’s second birthday. Summing up almost super human strength, he kept crawling through the mud and muck along the river bed. When he could not go on any more, he pushed against the netting in the outside hope he could get into a kneeling position. As he raised his head, he broke through the surface. It was hard to remember later the exact number of people who came out to help him but he saw Tommy Belatoni, Ben Kalinsky and  Sergeant Wilson Arambolis rushing into the water to help him. As soon as Rich was safe on land, the sergeant called off the dives. They would resume in the morning.

The following day witnesses told the cops that when the raft flipped, the girl swam to shore. But she ended up in an area far away from where the raft went over.

On Tuesday, NYPD divers found the body of fourteen-year-old Joseph Johnson.

Posted in: The Job

Comments are closed.