Tuesday, July 8, 2008
All Access: Chopper Cops
They help stop criminals from hundreds of feet in the air, tonight, Seven's Dave Kartunen takes us into the cockpit with Miami-Dade Police's Chopper Cops and gives us an All Access pass to show us what it takes to be a member of this aviation team.
WSVN -- They're the eyes-in-the-sky, but, before they get their wings, they have to wear a badge. Miami-Dade Police's chopper cops aren't just pilots, they're some of the most experienced lawmen on the force.
David Dooley: "You have to be a police officer first because of the intuition involved in apprehending criminals and so forth."
Carlos Hernandez: "Always enjoyed aviation more as a hobby, and I enjoyed police work and putting the two together is just great."
Police departments long ago discovered aerial power choppers staffed 24-7 at two airports.
David Dooley: "Any place that calls us, they need us, we're there."
But they'll bet you didn't know they've got planes too. These cops say most criminals don't know it either.
David Dooley: "That's the beauty about it. It is just another plane to people looking up."
They can monitor drug traffickers and conduct other surveillance, and they save lives statewide flying anti-venin to snakebite victims.
Lt. Cliff Nelson: "We have to very rapidly put together an airplane mission and fly it upstate."
But most of their work is done on the stick of a helicopter, often times looking for the bad guys on the run.
David Dooley: "We can apply that intuition to speculate on avenues of escape, hiding places and so forth, like that."
Dave Kartunen: "So we're looking for four to five subjects who fled this store after robbing someone walking out near Homestead Air Reserve Base. The pilot has to operate the spotlight, look for the subjects, who may have fled on foot, talk to the units on the ground and fly the helicopter. Amazingly, he does it all solo."
David Dooley: "We have to know how to work the radios, communicate on the ground, communicate with the air traffic control, keep vigil in the sky for other aircraft and on the ground, so it does get a bit busy at times."
Chopper cops can easily tail fleeing suspects, but they might also see a tiny reflection from 500 feet that leads cops on the ground to key evidence, like a murder weapon and it's much more than chasing bad guys. Chopper cops can rapidly deploy SWAT teams.
Lt. Cliff Nelson: "Obviously, one of the benefits of a helicopter is speed, more so than a car, even more so than a boat."
They can also aid divers. Sometimes what they find is evidence, other times it's the worst possible news for the family of a missing person.
Officer Carlos Hernandez: "It's always difficult, but at the same time knowing that there will be some closure for the family."
But, beyond chasing what's already happened, police departments love their choppers for what they can stop from ever happening. Pilots tell us just the sound of their rotors overhead makes bad guys think twice about committing crimes on the streets.
David Dooley: "That's the great thing about it, is you never know what you're going to get when you come to work that day."
And, in that sense, chopper cops see it all in more ways than one.