May - June 2004
Adding Aviation Into The Police Mix
Drunk Drivers Beware, We're In The Air
Making "Safety First"
Short Haul vs. Rappel
Snoopy Takes Flight to Protect Charlotte
Adding Aviation Into The Police Mix
By Kevin P. Means
San Diego Police Department
Everyone knows that it’s more expensive to operate a law enforcement helicopter than a police car, but a decision to add an aviation unit to a police agency is not quite as simple as comparing price tags. When operated by trained, professional pilots, aircraft can provide tremendous benefits to law enforcement agencies and the public –- benefits that would cost a lot more to obtain by any other means.
When an agency evaluates the concept of creating an air support unit, there is always someone at the tip of the spear. If that’s you, the first thing you should do is to determine the level of commitment from your entire organization. Will it support the operation over time? This answer is just as important as the money.
If money is available to purchase an aircraft, I guarantee that there are a bunch of other folks who would love to get their hands on it and use it for other things. Air support units often operate at airports, out of the mainstream of the law enforcement organization itself. After a while, the newness of a unit wears off and it becomes easy for administrators downtown to make cuts to a unit that is "out of sight and out of mind".
This is when budgeting (or lack of) can get dangerous. In a crunch, most members of an aviation unit will do everything they can do to survive. The more they’re able to "make due", the more the agency cuts back. If this continues, eventually, something will go terribly wrong and people will be left scratching their heads, asking the ridiculous question, "How could this have happened?" An air support unit is like an aircraft. It requires maintenance to operate safely and effectively. If you don’t maintain it, it will break.
Selecting An Aircraft
An agency should have some idea of what they want their aircraft to do. Identifying the mission and the operating environment is crucial to selecting the proper aircraft. For example, a light piston engine helicopter may be perfectly suited for patrol support in a small to medium size sea-level city. However, that same aircraft may not be adequate for patrol support in high, mountainous terrain, but neither will some smaller turbine aircraft.
In San Diego, we sold our program in part on the idea of performing patrol support and firefighting missions. We even bought the Bambi-Buckets and all the stuff that went with them. Well, after we loaded up our aircraft with two donut-eating cops, all the radio gear, infrared systems and police gizmos, we realized we couldn’t even lift an empty Bambi-Bucket, much less one that had half a ton of water in it. We even had to remove the cargo hooks because they weighed too much!
The best way to avoid making the same mistake is to learn from the mistakes of others. Talk to units that perform the mission you envision your unit performing in similar environments. What would they do if they had it to do all over again?
Military Surplus Aircraft
In past years, our industry was able to acquire military surplus aircraft and use them for law enforcement missions. Unfortunately, in too many cases, the acquisition of those aircraft was seen by many as a chance to get a "free" helicopter. Folks, there is no such thing as a free lunch or a free helicopter. You may be able to acquire such an aircraft for significantly less than the cost of a new certificated aircraft, but you will be limited on what you can legally use it for, and it will not be "free" to operate — far from it.
For example, you can expect the operating cost of an OH-58 to be very close to its civilian counterpart, the Jet Ranger. They’re different aircraft, but similar enough to make cost comparisons. If your department views military surplus aircraft as a means of getting into the airborne law enforcement industry cheaply, you need to educate department heads. In many cases, these aircraft are capable of performing many law enforcement missions safely, but only if they are maintained properly and flown by professional and appropriately rated pilots. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case, and the NTSB’s records are littered with many such examples.
Fixed-Wing Versus Rotorcraft
You shouldn’t necessarily assume that you need a helicopter. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. If your mission will be patrol support to a large, sparsely populated area, a fixed-wing aircraft may suffice. They’re usually less expensive to acquire and operate; they have greater endurance than helicopters; and they’re typically faster. You can even put infrared systems and other "bad guy-catching" equipment in them.
San Diego Police Department operates both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. We use the airplanes for surveillances and transportation. But most of our time is spent flying over a large metropolitan city at night, one thousand feet above the ground. And as much as I try to avoid it, I occasionally need to land in unprepared areas and hover. This is helicopter country. You need to identify your mission and do your research before selecting an aircraft.
Who Will Fly Your Aircraft?
Will you utilize civilian pilots or sworn pilots? Insurance companies will undoubtedly have a lot to say about that if your agency decides to acquire private insurance. But oftentimes they don’t, opting instead to self insure. You have to be careful here. Everyone wants to fly the machine, which is understandable. But law enforcement missions can be very demanding.
Law enforcement pilots will eventually find themselves in stressful, demanding situations that require good judgment, good skills and good experience. Experience takes time to acquire. Skills can be learned, but judgment is the wildcard. Don’t misunderstand me, civilian pilots are just as capable of exhibiting poor judgment as sworn pilots. There is no room for poor judgment in the cockpit.
At the risk of offending my civilian pilot friends, it has been my experience that pilots with law enforcement experience make the best law enforcement pilots for certain missions. This is simply because they have experience doing the cop’s job and insight into the bad guy’s mentality. But initially, they may not be qualified to act as pilot in command (PIC). To overcome this, some agencies are hiring civilian pilots to act as the PIC while sworn officers act as Tactical Flight Officers (Observers). At the same time, the TFOs are being trained to fly the aircraft. Once they acquire the necessary pilot ratings and flight time and demonstrate good judgment and skills, they transition to the pilot’s seat. This seems to work well and keeps the insurance company happy.
The infrastructure of an air support unit must contain certain components to enable the unit to operate as safely and effectively as possible.
The unit must have a viable safety program with a safety officer who is appropriately trained and who has the authority to have direct contact with upper level management. This is contrary to the way law enforcement organizations usually operate. The "chain of command" has its place, but not when it interferes with safety. If a safety issue has been identified, the safety officer must have the authority to address the issue immediately and with management personnel, without fear of retribution.
Recurrent emergency procedures training is essential to the ongoing safe operation of a unit. Modern aircraft, when properly maintained, are extremely reliable machines. But machines break, and people make mistakes. An engine failure at night over downtown San Diego would be a lousy time for me to be practicing my autorotation skills for the first time in a year. The skills required to repeatedly perform successful autorotations to specific landing sites are perishable. You should budget and plan to conduct this type of training every three to four months.
Your unit’s training program should be as realistic as possible. If you fly at night, you should train at night. If you fly with night vision goggles, you should train with night vision goggles. It is ironic that training is usually the first area to be cut when budgets are tight, especially when considering the potential losses and liability associated with not being proficient.
Price of Maintenance
The issue of contract maintenance versus agency maintenance is akin to the issue of who is best suited to act as pilot in command. The qualifications, conscientiousness and professionalism of the individual who is working on your aircraft are what are most important. Fortunately, at least for certificated aircraft, the rules are pretty well defined. You cannot cut corners when it comes to maintenance.
"... Experience takes time to acquire. Skills can be learned, but judgment is the wildcard..."
This is certainly one of the most overlooked and challenging areas in the airborne law enforcement industry. It’s not unusual for law enforcement organizations to transfer their management people around within the organization to gain experience. And in most cases, it makes sense because those folks have come up through the ranks and likely have prior experience in the departments they now oversee (patrol, investigations, SWAT, etc.). However, it is rare for them to have any aviation experience, yet they are now expected to manage an entire unit they know nothing about.
An aviation unit is in a large part governed by an outside entity, the Federal Aviation Administration. Agencies are often reluctant to send their management personnel to any aviation-related management classes because they know they’re not going to be there very long. It’s a vicious cycle.
What’s the answer? Hopefully, you can find someone who doesn’t want to promote or leave the unit. Or better yet, promote from within and keep the expertise in the unit. As long as that person is performing their job well, either one of those solutions would work. Once again, however, that’s a concept that flies in the face of the way law enforcement usually does business.
If your agency feels that it can’t afford to operate an air support unit on its own, it might consider sharing expenses. There are many ways of doing this, and here are a couple examples:
The Burbank and Glendale Police Departments in California operate their own aircraft; however, they do so out of a single hangar. The facility’s construction costs and the day-to-day operating expenses are shared 50/50. They each have a single mechanic, but those mechanics help each other out when needed at no charge. Each agency owns their own aircraft, but they are from the same manufacturer so the crews train together. They stagger their patrol shifts to ensure that one aircraft is up at all times, and the crews respond to radio calls in both neighboring cities. And in pinch, the TFO from one agency can fly in the other agency’s aircraft.
The cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach have taken it one step further and have one of the smoothest joint operations around. They operate a single air support unit via a Joint Powers Authority (JPA). It took a while to get through all the legalese, but for the last seven years, the unit has thrived. Each agency provides pilots and TFOs and on-site mechanics. The mechanics also provide contract maintenance to the Orange County Sheriff’s Aviation Unit. The unit has three turbine aircraft, with an envious aircraft replacement program. Every 3.33 years, the oldest aircraft is replaced with a new one. This can be accomplished because both agencies put money into an account at a rate that will enable them to fund the purchase.
A Board of Governors oversees the unit and representatives from both agencies are on the board. I can’t think of a better example of two agencies working together to provide cost- effective and efficient airborne law enforcement services.
Creating an air support unit is no easy task. It’s not unusual for it to take a decade or more for the planets to align and for an agency to get its first aircraft. But once you’re airborne, don’t think you’ve got it made. Remember the name "air support". We work for them, it’s not the other way around. You have to constantly sell your program. If you’re successful, you will be amazed at what you can do with an aircraft for your agency.
Drunk Drivers Beware,
We're In The Air
By Chris Cognac
Hawthorne (CA) Police Department
Hawthorne (CA) Police Department Traffic Bureau Sgt. Keith Kauffman has the same concerns that traffic officers and commanders have all over the country. How can the traffic bureau arrest more D.U.I. suspects using less overtime and less manpower? How can he get more "bang for the buck" and make the best use of the police resources at his disposal?
In January of last year, Kauffman remembered hearing that the California Office of Traffic Safety (O.T.S.) was looking to fund grants for D.U.I. enforcement using new techniques and unconventional approaches to getting drunk drivers off the road. Kauffman looked into the sky and saw something he knew could be used to spot the telltale erratic driving behavior and vehicle code violations of impaired drivers better than any D.U.I. checkpoint could. The perfect vehicle to use for D.U.I. enforcement was flying right over his head, the MD 500E helicopter (Air 55) that his department flew four nights a week.
Kauffman discussed the idea with Lt. Paul Moreau, and the two of them decided to conduct some tests during the next night of D.U.I. enforcement. Kauffman contacted the tactical flight officers and pilots in the air unit to see what they thought of the idea and if it was indeed possible. The pilots and TFOs were enthusiastic to try to use the helicopter for something new and untested. Kauffman went out on patrol that night with Air 55 to see for himself what it was like in the air. He was immediately impressed with the helicopter’s ability to track and locate vehicles. Kauffman had convinced himself that it was possible to use Air 55 for D.U.I. enforcement; now all he had to do was prove it.
On Friday evening, January 24, 2003, Kauffman, riding in the right rear seat of Air 55, and three traffic officers on motorcycles tested Kauffman’s theory. During the night, using only the three motorcycles on the ground and Air 55, the Hawthorne Police Department Traffic Bureau conducted 19 traffic stops that were initiated from the air by Kauffman and T.F.O. Mark Hayes. Nineteen vehicles were stopped, four for speeding, two for reckless driving, two for running red lights, four for having no lights on, three for weaving, three for running stop signs and one for standing in the roadway.
Officers on the ground conducted the appropriate field sobriety tests and arrested four drivers for D.U.I. of alcohol, one for D.U.I. of marijuana, and another for a $50,000 D.U.I. warrant. Air 55 stopped three other drivers who were issued citations for various vehicle code violations. Not a single driver stopped that evening ever mentioned seeing the helicopter.
Kauffman was ecstatic; he had proven that his idea worked. Air 55 flew 3.1 hours during the shift, and 26% of the stops initiated resulted in D.U.I. arrests, far better and much more cost effective than a D.U.I. checkpoint operated for the same amount of time using 20 police personnel.
Kauffman prepared a grant application using the data he had collected during the test period, as well as regional statistics for D.U.I. accidents and arrests in Hawthorne and the nine surrounding cities known as the "South Bay". Kauffman contacted the traffic offices of those surrounding cities and asked if they would be interested in utilizing the D.U.I Eradication By Aerial Enforcement (D.E.B.A.E.) during the multi-agency South Bay D.U.I. task force nights held one night a month and for two weeks over the Christmas holidays. The surrounding police forces were enthused about the possibility of nabbing more drunk drivers using Air 55. Having Air 55 as a dedicated resource would also reduce risk in the case of pursuits, which often occur during dedicated D.U.I. enforcement, as Air 55’s support overhead would allow pursuing ground units to follow at a distance, and at a lower speed. Kauffman received written letters of endorsement from the nine surrounding law enforcement agencies.
The California Office of Traffic Safety was impressed by Kauffman’s grant proposal and decided to fund the D.E.B.A.E. program with a grant of $135,000 in November of 2003. The first D.E.B.A.E. patrol was flown later that month in the city of Hawthorne. That first patrol, which consisted of five ground officers and the flight crew of Air 55, conducted 28 helicopter initiated traffic stops and netted eight D.U.I arrests in three hours of flight time. That first patrol was so successful in fact, that Air 55 had to land early. There were just too many D.U.I. arrests and no ground units left to make traffic stops.
The Christmas holiday season always brings out an excess of drunk and impaired drivers, so for 10 days around Christmas and New Years’ Eve, the South Bay D.U.I. Task Force patrolled the nine cities of the South Bay—Hawthorne, Lawndale, Gardena, Inglewood, Torrance, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Palos Verde’s Estates, including the El Camino College campus—in full force, with a zero tolerance standpoint on driving intoxicated. During this holiday period, operation D.E.B.A.E. was expanded to include all of the participating cities. Each night, two or three of the participating police agencies concentrated efforts, and Air 55 worked within a predetermined target area. Air 55 supplemented its crew with either a supervisor or traffic officer from the target city who assisted with navigation and observation duties and logged in each traffic stop and disposition. During the holiday season, Air 55 flew 10 shifts and dedicated enforcement time in every city for at least two flight shifts of 1.5 hrs each. Air 55 flew 32.1 flight hours and conducted 142 helicopter-initiated traffic stops resulting in 38 arrests for D.U.I. Air 55 was also involved in directing two pursuits that resulted in arrest.
And using Air 55 for D.U.I. enforcement has still further benefits. For one, it maintains a "mobile target area." That is, unlike a static checkpoint, Air 55 can be switched to different areas in different cities according to traffic flow, events or weather conditions. Aerial D.U.I. enforcement also alleviates the traffic delays caused at a fixed checkpoint. And, because the helicopter’s location is ever changing, word of a "D.U.I. checkpoint" does not get around the local bars and allow the drunk drivers to avoid being stopped.
So far, operation D.E.B.A.E has flown a total of 46.5 flight hours, resulting in 82 total D.U.I. arrests. On March 29 2004, one of the most impressive nights of D.E.B.E.A. use, there were a total of 12 D.U.I. arrests in 2.7 hrs of dedicated flight time using 5 officers on the ground. That is an average of 4.3 D.U.I. arrests per hour.
California Office of Traffic Safety Grant Coordinator Jeff Hammond stated that the O.T.S. has been very pleased with the innovative approach that the Hawthorne Police traffic and aviation units have taken to D.U.I. enforcement. Hammond further stated that there has been a lot of positive publicity generated as a result of operation D.E.B.A.E., which serves as a deterrent to drunk driving in itself.
Because of the successes of operation D.E.B.A.E., Mothers Against Drunk Driving recently presented the program and Air 55 with an award for its dedication and innovations in D.U.I enforcement.
The Hawthorne Police Department will continue to push forward with innovative techniques and new methods to better serve Hawthorne and the surrounding South Bay communities. The people of the South Bay owe a debt of thanks to the California Office of Traffic Safety for making it possible for the South Bay D.U.I. Task Force and the Hawthorne Police to operate the program and make the streets safer for everyone, one D.U.I. at a time.
Information on operation D.E.B.A.E. can be obtained from Sgt. Keith Kauffman at the Hawthorne Police Department by calling (310) 970-7261.
Making "Safety First"
By Keith Johnson
APSA Safety Coordinator
There are no new causes of accidents, just different people needlessly making the same old mistakes. For the past decade, the accident rate in law enforcement aviation has remained essentially the same. In the last five years specifically, law enforcement aviation operators have had 85 accidents — resulting in 23 fatalities, 66 non-fatal injuries, and the destruction of 75 aircraft. The direct tangible cost of these accidents is in the tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars.
There are hidden costs of accidents. Too often aviation units are closed down, personnel and aircraft are not replaced, and the image of the organization is seriously, if not irreparably, damaged. Only with a proactive approach can we successfully eliminate accidents.
The APSA has asked me to propose a comprehensive Safety Program for the membership. The Safety Program should be a resource for every organization and every member to use, no matter whether they are just getting started or have many years of experience.
The objective of the Safety Program will be to eliminate, not just reduce
accidents by some artificial number. Accident reduction implies that some measure of accidents is part of the cost of doing business. This is unacceptable. Who among us would volunteer to be one of the 89 of our members killed or injured in the past five years?
"Acting after the accident is easy, acting before the accident takes insight, commitment, wisdom and courage."
Placing your daily missions above the priority of safety leaves you vulnerable. It can create a weak safety wall that can easily be penetrated by minor mistakes that can result in an accident. As stated earlier, there have been 85 accidents by law enforcement aviation in the last five years. If history is a predictor of the future, we can assume that there will be an equal amount of accidents in the next five years unless we change the way we operate. If we fail to heed the lessons of the past, we are destined to repeat the same mistakes.
We must ask, "Why can some organizations fly 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 flight-hours and more without an accident, while others have accidents almost every year?" We know the answer. Human error in decision-making is the root cause of 80 percent of our accidents, and training is the key to solving this problem. With safety as our highest priority, we can eliminate the chances of human-error accidents.
APSA’s Safety Program will bring more emphasis on the role and importance of chief officers and unit managers. Safety within an organization is a reflection of management effectiveness. This is where the buck stops. Furthermore, a test of leadership is management’s ability to recognize the need for training and to take action before, rather than after, an accident. Acting after the accident is easy, but acting before the accident takes insight, commitment, wisdom and courage.
The Safety Program will bring added focus to safety matters, including the use of standards and training. This will help people do the right things and do things right. We will develop a sponsorship program that will assist every unit manager in participating in APSA’s training programs.
There will be a recognition program to acknowledge those organizations that eliminate accidents. These organizations will be used as models for others to follow.
Again, there are no new causes of accidents, just different people needlessly making the same old mistakes. Each of us must do a better job. The key to meeting this challenge is training. Too often, we hear the argument that training is too expensive. If you think training is expensive, try having an accident.
Photo caption: There were 102 total helicopter accidents reported in 2003 by the Federal Aviation Administration. Twelve of those accidents were in the government and
police category, with four fatalities.
Short Haul vs. Rappel
By Constable John A. Gayder
Niagara Parks (Ontario, Canada) Police Department
Helicopter rappelling was first developed as a military technique. It became an extremely efficient and popular method of inserting long range patrols into areas where conventional landing points were likely to be under enemy surveillance. These points were usually long distances from base and getting to them could involve evasive maneuvers including Nap Of the Earth (NOE) flying and deception landings. Since the ropes and rigging for rappelling could be contained within the aircraft cabin, these flights could be conducted with the doors closed, thereby allowing for crew comfort and undiminished aerodynamics.
Short haul involves suspending a person, or persons, on an approximately 100-foot long, fixed rope system below the helicopter over a short distance. It too had its genesis in wartime as a method of extracting the patrols of the type mentioned above and was later perfected as a civilian rescue technique by the Swiss in the early 1970s. In most instances, it requires that at least one door be open in order for a spotter to keep an eye on the person being hauled.
When comparing the two techniques, it is obvious that short hauling enjoys many advantages over rappelling and it is the more appropriate technique for law enforcement.
The circumstances that would necessitate helicopter rappelling in the military setting are seldom, if ever, encountered in law enforcement. Most tactical flights are far shorter than those called for in a military theatre of operations, or at least can be made so if using the short haul technique. Hollywood notwithstanding, anti-aircraft missiles are rarely a concern for law enforcement, so evasive maneuvers are not required.
Indeed, if minimizing time over the target landing area is a concern due to hostile fire or observation by heavily-armed "unfriendlies," the team leader involved should probably be considering fast-roping, or better yet — choosing another location or method for insertion. Here again, short haul may even have an edge over fast-roping in that it keeps the aircraft further away from hostiles. And since a loss of power while placing personnel onto the ground occurs at an increased height AGL, short haul permits more time to recover or prepare for emergency landing. Additionally, the number of personnel deliverable by fast roping is still inextricably chained to cabin capacity, whereas the number deliverable by short haul is theoretically equal to the maximum sling load weight
of the helicopter used.
"...rappelling is more useful as a confidence builder for new entrants rather than a solid operational technique..."
Rappelling is a technique that requires an inordinate amount of concentration by the person conducting it. Loss of brake hand authority on the rope, or worse, the entanglement of equipment, clothing, or a gloved finger into the rappel device, will either send the operator falling to a likely injury or leave him stuck part way down the rope. The longer I am in the business of high angle rope work, the more I see that rappelling is more useful as a confidence builder for new entrants into the high angle environment rather than a solid operational technique. There are very few (if any) things that a rappel can do that double line lowering (belaying) cannot do safer or more efficiently. Short hauling is an even simpler technique than belaying in that it is actually a giant restraint system.
In a short haul, outside of ensuring that his gear is properly stowed, his harness is on correctly and properly affixed to the rope, (which is something that must also be done prior to rappelling), the operator need only concentrate on the mission and advising the pilot or spotter of obstacles. Once airborne and on his way to the target, he becomes a "dope-on-a-rope" and his destiny is left entirely within the hands of the pilot and providence.
Short haul is especially attractive for units equipped with light duty machines which are typically hampered by cockpit capacity, configuration or center of gravity concerns in that it can theoretically allow carrying a number of personnel equal to the maximum allowable sling load weight. It can safely and efficiently allow placement of cut off teams, K9 units, assaulters or snipers onto rooftops or within a fortified compound not large enough to land in.
In such operations, it can be staged from a nearby (it is called short haul for a reason) schoolyard, parking lot or sports field not under observation by the other team. The machine can then be rigged and the personnel attached to await the green light. If being employed in answer to a barricaded subject or unlawful assembly situation, negotiators can explain the landing of the helicopter as the arrival of the Chief of Police, Mayor or some other ruse.
Including short haul into an aviation unit’s "tool box" also allows them the secondary benefit of permitting increased ability to conduct "pick off" rescues from inaccessible locations such as unduly fast moving, ice covered or large bodies of water, or in areas surrounded by flood or fire. In fact, units with a short haul capability are far more likely to use it for rescue than for anything else.
Training for short haul is more economical than rappelling, as it requires no special training tower. Placing the appropriate number of five-gallon pails full of concrete onto a picnic table is a good way to develop the set of piloting skills and coordination with a spotter required to swiftly place team members where they should be. A cost-effective, all-weather training method for non-aviation personnel to practice hook-up and unhooking drills is available at any bus garage or factory equipped with an overhead crane or hoist.
Helicopter rappelling will continue to have a place within military aviation doctrine, however, its days of use within law enforcement must surely be numbered. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Aircraft Safety (OAS) has an excellent publication (351 DM 1) that is an excellent place to find help in starting a short haul program.
Snoopy Takes Flight to Protect Charlotte
By R.C. Shepherd
Forsyth County (NC) Sheriff’s Office
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has a proud history of airborne law enforcement, dating back more than thirty years. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Helicopter Unit began when city leadership recognized the potential of police air support. In that era, the community of Charlotte was starting to grow at a rapid pace and the problem of policing it effectively was the motivation for acquiring an aviation capability.
A federal grant in 1971 for the start up of an aviation unit allowed the Charlotte Police Department to purchase a helicopter. It was a small piston engine Bell model 47G-5. Police radios, a searchlight and a public address loudspeaker were installed on the aircraft. The tiny 260-horsepower helicopter soon became a common sight in the sky over Charlotte. Citizens and police officers welcomed the helicopter’s presence overhead.
The next year, police administrators decided the helicopter needed a name. It was determined that the community should take part in choosing the name in order to increase awareness of the unit. A contest was held within the city’s school system, and children were given the honor of choosing a name. In the end, the majority of the children had picked the name Snoopy.
Everyone agreed that the name Snoopy was a pretty good choice. Just as the cartoon dog took to the air to fight the evil Red Baron, the helicopter would take to the air to fight crime. Each of the children who helped to pick the name earned a ride on the helicopter. A cartoon Snoopy soon decorated the helicopter’s side fuel tanks. Snoopy also became the unit’s radio call sign.
The unit was based at the police department’s downtown headquarters and flew from a rooftop helipad. For the next four years, the unit used the little Bell 47 to patrol the city and answer calls for service. During that time, the unit chalked up an impressive record of achievement and firmly established itself as an essential part of the police department.
In 1976, the original Snoopy was retired and replaced by a new Bell model 206B JetRanger. The larger turbine powered helicopter greatly increased the unit’s capability. For the first time, the unit could fly with its standard two-person crew and carry other personnel needed to conduct missions. The helicopter also provided a limited capacity for the medical evacuation of officers injured in the field.
The rooftop helipad soon proved inadequate for the larger aircraft. The open area offered no protection from the weather, and only the most basic maintenance could be performed there. Safety of flight was also becoming an issue from the downtown rooftop as new skyscrapers were being built nearby. In 1977, the helicopter unit moved to a new home. A hangar was purposely built for the unit on the grounds of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Appropriately, the new hangar came to be known as the "dog house".
Snoopy is a direct support unit for patrol missions. Missions include directed patrol, major scene command and control, vehicle pursuits, criminal surveillance, K-9 search support, search and rescue, special teams operations, photography, community relations, nuclear emergency drills and evacuations and requests for regional assistance. As Charlotte continued to grow, the helicopter unit proved invaluable as their services were called for more often.
Major changes in the organization of the police department came in 1993 that had a direct impact on the helicopter unit’s operations. During that year, the City of Charlotte Police Department merged with the Mecklenburg County Police Department. Following the merger, the unit became the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Helicopter Unit. The unit now not only provided service in the city limits of Charlotte, already the largest city in North Carolina, but throughout the entire county as well. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Helicopter Unit now responded to calls in an area covering over 500 square miles. The area included major lakes with hundreds of miles of shoreline, and several thousands of miles of roads and highways.
The tempo of operations and number of calls for service increased. The hours of routine patrol flights increased in addition to the number of flight hours used for direct calls for service. The use of the helicopter became vitally important as the area continued to grow. The added population, economic growth from industry, and new professional sports venues insured that the helicopter was an indispensable part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
The unit continued to update equipment in an attempt to provide the community with better service. Airborne imaging equipment was added to the helicopter in 1994. The unit received a thermal imaging and color video system, which greatly enhanced the unit’s effectiveness. Operations with the imaging equipment led to many more arrests and increased officer safety. Out of jurisdiction mutual aid calls also increased because of the utility of the thermal imaging equipment.
After twenty years of service to the helicopter unit, the Bell 206B was starting to show signs of its age. In 1997, the unit purchased a Bell model 407. The new helicopter came complete with an impressive avionics suite as well as custom installed mission equipment. It was equipped with sliding doors and had the added capabilities for rappelling and short haul sling operations. The unit began to explore the possibilities of tactical operations and rescue work. Early training and experimenting with the SWAT team and the fire department soon began.
The unit’s hangar at Charlotte Douglas International Airport proved inadequate to house the larger airframe and rotor system of the Bell 407. A new hangar was built next to the old hangar. The new hangar was opened for operations in 2000 and built with expansion in mind. Increased office space, equipment storage, and room for additional aircraft were provided. The old hangar was converted to use by other divisions of the police department.
Due to the high operational use of the helicopter and the need for a continued high level of mission availability, it became clear that a second aircraft was needed to supplement the unit’s single Bell 407. In late 2001, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Helicopter Unit took delivery of a second police mission equipped Bell 407. The second helicopter and additional mission equipment were an important step in the never-ending goal of providing excellence in service to the community.
In February 2003, the forethought of continued equipment upgrades and expanded mission training paid off. The rescue training practiced with the Charlotte Fire Department was put to the test during a swift water rescue. In neighboring Gaston County, a man and woman had been swept into the storm-swollen Catawba River. After floating down the swift rapids, the couple was thrown over a spillway before coming to rest on rocks in the middle of the river.
Rescue personnel from Gaston County responded to the scene and made an assessment of the situation. Because of various environmental considerations and head injuries received by the woman, it was decided to attempt an aerial extraction of the two victims. Being aware of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police helicopter rescue capabilities, Gaston County requested their assistance. Helicopter unit members from the police and fire departments responded to the scene for a short haul line extraction. The couple in distress was quickly and safely rescued in this multi-agency operation.
Although modern aircraft and high technology equipment are vital to airborne law enforcement today, personnel are still the most important part of any aviation unit. A crew of five full-time and one part-time aircraft commanders currently staff the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Helicopter Unit. They are Officers Mark Brooks, Don Bristle, Eric Kelly, Matt Porter, Brian Bihler, and Phil Hollifield. A full time A & P mechanic, Shane Pack, joined the unit in 2003.
When scheduling does not allow for a two-pilot crew, staffing is supplemented by mission and equipment qualified part-time tactical flight officers. These part-time TFOs are drawn from other divisions of the department as needed. They are Officers Jeff Harrington, Jay Littlejohn, Phillip Thompson, Terry Davis, Doug Lambert, David Kale, Larry Miller, Chris Page, and John Morrison.
During insertion and extraction missions, CMPD relies on fire department personnel to rig the equipment and act as crew chiefs. The Fire Department Crew Chiefs are J.D. Thomas, Jeff VonCannon, Paula McDaniel, and John Jackson. Additionally, other police officers and firefighters also receive training in tactical and rescue helicopter operations.
Today, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Helicopter Unit strives to continue its tradition as a progressive and modern airborne law enforcement unit. An effort to expand the unit’s capabilities through training and improvements in equipment is ongoing. Sharing information with fellow law enforcement professionals and industry vendors is vital. As part of this effort, the CMPD takes great pride in being your host for the 34th APSA Annual Conference and Expo. Welcome to our city!