The value of the Police Helicopter
This story is fairly unremarkable in the annals of police aviation but it is an excellent example of the tremendous value of having an airborne law enforcement asset (helicopter) with regional capabilities. San Diego County is one of the largest counties in the Sate of California. It is roughly the size of the State of Connecticut with 18 incorporated cities and 17 unincorporated communities. Our aviation unit patrols all of the county with the exception of the City of San Diego who has their own police aviation unit.
A couple of years ago I was working as the Tactical Flight Officer on the helicopter when we received a call from the Escondido Police Department regarding an occupied stolen vehicle that had just been used in two different "grab and run" thefts. Our flight time to the city was approximately 8 or 9 minutes which greatly reduced our chances of be effective in our search for the stolen car. While en-route I began to gather additional information about the vehicle and the call.
From the Escondido Police Dispatcher I learned that the vehicle was a green Ford Mustang convertible with the top down, occupied by two male subjects. The first grab and run theft was from an open business on Valley Parkway, and the second theft occurred just a few minutes later from a business on S. Center City Pkwy in the City of Escondido. I learned that the vehicle was stolen the previous day, from the City of Chula Vista, which is the opposite end (southern end) of the county.
This was excellent information. I knew from the locations of the first and second thefts that the vehicle and suspects were moving in a southerly direction. I knew that S. Center City Pkwy dumps right on to south bound Interstate-15. The next jurisdiction to the south was San Diego Police Department's Northern Division. Since the car was stolen from the opposite end of the county I suspected that the occupants had probably driven to north county visit one of the 3 to 4 new gambling casinos that had recently opened north of Escondido. All of this information, compiled within the previous 60 seconds or so, told me that this vehicle was probably south bound on the I-15 at this very moment. Still out of position to intercept the vehicle, I knew I had to do something.
Two clicks of the button on my lower police radio and I was talking to the dispatcher for San Diego Police -Northern Division. I asked if they had received a "be on the lookout" for the stolen green mustang possibly south bound from the City of Escondido, and she stated they had not. I quickly broadcast the BOL information over her frequency knowing full well that any San Diego Police Officer any where near the I-15 in north county would be scooting over to the freeway, even as I talked. I also knew that a green ford mustang convertible with the top down and two crooks in the front seat was going to stand out like a sore thumb on the I-15.
With the information broadcast, I switched back to Escondido P.D. as they were requesting that we continue and check a nearby mall for the vehicle. Only a brief 2 or 3 minutes had passed when then regional air frequency crackled and the San Diego Dispatcher advised that her units were in high speed pursuit of the green mustang on the s/b I-15. Cha-ching!
We turned the helicopter and headed that way but the pilot and I both knew that we would never catch up to the pursuit at this point. We listened as the pursuit reached speeds of over 100 mph, and as the occupants tossed guns and stolen merchandise from the vehicle. The stolen vehicle soon became entangled in rush hour traffic near one of the larger freeway interchanges in the heart of San Diego. The suspects abandoned their vehicle and attempted to flee on foot, but were both soon in custody thanks to the quick work of San Diego Police.
The closest I got to the pursuit is watching it at the top of the 11:00 news that night. All of this made possible by two clicks of of a button on our helicopter's regional police radio. It reminds me of an old saying from my youth, "you can out run the motor but you can't out run the motorola". That's the value of a police helicopter.