The Patrol Support Helicopter

Support HelicopterAs we progress into the year 2015, street criminals continue to evolve and adapt to the tactics we utilize to apprehend them. Having worked as a police officer in Southern Nevada since 1993, I have watched these changes in suspect tactics result in a more thorough and evasive street criminal. They are more cunning, savvy and violent, and they have a detailed thought process when it comes to escaping apprehension, which causes new challenges for police departments nationwide.

One of the best and most effective assets that many major police departments, including the LVMPD, use against street criminals is the patrol support helicopter. For ease of explanation, patrol helicopters are very similar to a patrol car in the sky. “The mission is the same, only the vehicle is different,” is a phrase we often use. The aircrew is actively looking for suspicious vehicles and people prowling neighborhoods late at night, responding to calls for service, assisting patrol officers who are arriving on potentially dangerous calls, setting up perimeters during foot pursuits, and providing tactical insight P# M215 during pursuits and other high priority calls to help minimize liability for the agency.

The aircrew is most typically made up of a command pilot who is a police officer and a Tactical Flight Officer (TFO) who is also a police officer; most often they are flying in a fully mission-equipped helicopter at a somewhat low level, between 400 and 1,000 feet above ground level, depending on the type of
call being worked. The pilot’s main responsibility is flying the aircraft, being primarily concerned with all safety of flight issues, navigating busy airspace and communicating with air traffic control towers, while the TFO’s role is much more complicated and many times more demanding.

The TFO is responsible for all of the police-related duties, including but not limited to: safety of flight; patrol procedures/tactics; call prioritization; effective radio communication with ground units, dispatch and the pilot; detailed orientation of the geographical area by streets, hundred blocks and landmarks; technical ability to operate GPS systems, moving maps, thermal imagers, Nightsun spotlights,
multiple radios and, of course, being able to master crew resource management (CRM). CRM is the key to safety and aircrew effectiveness — through communication, use of mission equipment, and coordination between the pilot and TFO.

Police patrol helicopters properly equipped with useful, relevant and modern mission equipment with competent crew members are a force multiplier, tactical security blanket, deterrent to crime, nightmare for fleeing suspects, and an aerial command platform that can reduce liability and assist ground commanders with more effective decision-making. Patrol officers on perimeter and roving positions, effective patrol air support overhead and K-9 handlers with good patrol dogs seeking out suspects are the winning combination when it comes to apprehending fleeing street criminals. Be mindful of officer safety and request all of these resources if you have them available to you and the crime warrants them.

If you are interested in a very rewarding career in LVMPD Air Support, we have two different programs available to you: the 30-day orientation or the 10-week tactical flight officer TDY. Attending either of these programs is dependent upon your chain of command releasing you for the appropriate time period, coordination with Air Support’s chain of command to make sure we can facilitate your schedule, and a willingness to maintain a positive attitude, work hard and accept constructive criticism. Neither of these programs is a walk in the park; you will be challenged, so please come prepared. Contact Air Support for any questions you may have and to obtain the study packet. Stay safe!