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North Miami Beach detective dives into depths of dirty work

On one of North Miami Beach Detective Jim Randazzo’s first recovery missions as a police diver, he made a rookie mistake.

He found a plastic bag, its contents a mystery, and lifted it above his head to carry over to the canal bank.

Before he made it, the bottom of the bag fell open and the decomposed body of a dog — and the water it had been sitting in — spilled all over him.

“I’ve never done that again,” said Randazzo, who lives in Sunrise and is part of the North Miami Beach’s nine-member dive team.

That’s just one of the situations police divers encounter every time they splash into one of South Florida’s murky, animal-infested canals.

“When we are done with some of the dives, you can’t get to a bar of soap fast enough,” said Randazzo, 48, who is married with two daughters. He also works on the city’s SWAT team.

A North Miami Beach police detective’s salary ranges from $78,000 to $83,000, not including benefits.

Randazzo makes an additional $10 a week as a diver.

In order to become a police diver, a person must be a sworn officer and have advanced scuba certification. They must also take an 80-hour course to hone their skills: how to tow cars out of canals; rescue passengers after a plane crashes into water; and examine ship hulls for bombs, drugs and contraband.

It is not uncommon for them to come face-to-face — or face-to-tail — with snakes, crabs and the occasional alligator.

Divers often swim right into fluids that leak from vehicles dumped or accidentally driven into Miami-Dade waterways.

“Diesel is the worst,” said Randazzo, noting the stomach pains that follow. “It’s like drinking an entire pitcher of water in Mexico.”

Randazzo acknowledges the job often yields tragic discoveries: Divers sometimes stumble upon victims when performing routine searches.

Even wearing a mouthpiece, Randazzo said such discoveries have an unmistakable effect on his senses. “It’s like a pungent, sweet chocolaty taste that you will never forget. Never,” he said. “Once it gets in your mouth, it never leaves.”

On a recent Monday, Randazzo donned his flippers, 80-pound tank and wet suit and carefully jumped into North Miami Beach’s Snake Creek Canal as part of a training exercise.

When Randazzo surfaced, he was covered in green weeds and algae, carrying a rusted “No Parking” sign.

“It’s actually pretty clean today,” he said. “When you can see your hands, that’s a good day.”

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