Airborne Law Enforcement —The Solution!

Welcome to our third-annual airborne law enforcement issue of HeliMxmagazine. The July/August issue of HeliMxis distributed at the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) conference and exhibition. This July 17-20, publisher Greg Napert and I will be in Orlando, FL, attending ALEA’s 43rd annual event. If you are going to be at ALEA, be sure to stop by booth No. 659 and say hello.

The helicopter community is a close industry, and helicopter mechanics are a breed of their own. The helicopter mechanics I have known are proud to be “rotor heads.” Within the tight community of helicopters, airborne law enforcement is an even tighter community — so much so that they don’t have a problem poking fun at themselves. I still remember the first ALEA conference I went to in 2010. I went to the Torching of the Pig Party and the Pig Pickin’ Banquet hosted on consecutive evenings by Cobham and FLIR. Both are fun networking opportunities at ALEA. The mugs that were given out had a pig in a flight suit flying a helicopter with the words “When Pigs Fly” on it. Although I wouldn’t dare call an airborne law enforcement officer (or any police officer, for that matter) a pig, they have no problem embracing the whole “pig” theme.

FLIR presents its annual FLIR Vision Awards at the Pig Pickin’ Banquet. The Vision Awards honor the very best in airborne law enforcement use of electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) technology. FLIR recognizes state and local law enforcement agencies for their contributions to public safety through the use of tactical, airborne thermal imagery. Each year, FLIR asks law enforcement agencies to submit their video footage shot during rescues, pursuits, apprehensions and surveillance operations. It asks that entries highlight the tactical use of EO/IR technology and the importance of the airborne imaging system in successful mission completion.

Footage from each winning video is shown as part of the annual awards ceremony during the Pig Pickin’ Banquet. First place prizes include a generous donation to the air unit’s favorite charity, a traveling trophy for the air unit to display, Vision Awards leather flight jackets and office plaques. Second and third place receive a generous donation to the air unit’s favorite charity as well as Vision Awards apparel and office plaques.

Watching the winning videos each year, it is amazing to see what a valuable tool EO/IR technology is to help apprehend suspects.

That value became apparent to the general public this past April. April 15 is a day many Americans dread because it is Tax Day — the deadline to submit our taxes to the State and Federal governments. However, April 15 will forever be remembered in another way. April 15 of this year was the day two pressure cooker bombs were exploded close to the finish line at the Boston Marathon. The explosions resulted in three deaths and 264 injuries.

On April 18, the FBI released photos and surveillance video of the two suspects. Later that day, the suspects were identified as Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Shortly after the images were released, the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly killed an MIT police officer, carjacked an SUV and got into a gunfight in Watertown, where an MTBA police officer was critically injured. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during the gunfight, and his brother Dzhokhar was injured and escaped. The next afternoon, a Watertown resident called 911 to say he discovered someone hiding in his boat in his back yard. After a short standoff, Dzhokhar was apprehended and taken to a nearby hospital.

After Dzhokhar’s arrest, videos were released showing the IR imaging surveillance of him lying in the boat as a robot was used to peel back the boat cover. I don’t know if it was a FLIR product or another infrared imaging system, but it seems apparent that the IR imaging provided by the system on the helicopter was crucial to the safe apprehension of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

I have a tee shirt I received from United Rotorcraft at that first ALEA I attended in 2010. The shirt reads, “Airborne Law Enforcement — The Solution.” How true those words are! Thanks to all our law enforcement professionals on the ground, in the air, and on our nation’s waterways for being vigilant and placing themselves in harm’s way to ensure the safety of the general public!   

Thanks for reading, and we appreciate your feedback!  

Joe Escobar  |  Editorial Director