Police Helicopter Pilot

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Police Helicopter Crews "Tweeting" From All Across The UK

South Yorkshire Police Helicopter: Photo- BBC NewsLaw Enforcement helicopter units have often sought ways to improve public relations, particularly when it comes to budget crunch time.  In fact many units no longer in existence wish they would have done a better job at garnering public support while the opportunity existed.   Understandably, it would not have saved every unit that has been cut due to budget issues, but strong public support for your air ops unit can never be a bad thing.

Many police aviation units in the UK have been under the budget ax just like units on this side of the pond.  In an effort for the public to better understand exactly what these police aviation units are doing, many in the UK have taken to tweeting about their routine calls, to include rescues, suspect searches and vehicle pursuits. 

West Midlands Air Support Unit

One of the units leading the “tweeting” charge is the West Midlands Police Air Support unit who began posting updates earlier this month.  In as little as 10 days the unit had more than 500 followers and had posted over 100 messages on their Twitter Account. 

West Midlands Air Support Unit Sgt. Dave Mitchell states that it gives the public and taxpayers insight into what the unit does and how their tax money is being spent.  He goes on to point out something that anyone who has ever been a member of a police air unit knows, that the crew members of law enforcement helicopters have very little public contact during normal operations. 

Think of it this way;  Most law enforcement air units are located at secure airport facilities where the public there is little to no access.  Most police air unit members show up on calls at 500’ agl, and leave the scene at the same altitude.  Even when the helicopter lands and makes contact such as in a rescue situation, the helicopter noise along with the air crew’s helmets with face shields often prevent the victim from knowing the names of their rescuers, or even what they look like. It would seem that giving the public a way to interact with law enforcement air crews would have a net positive result.

In the case of West Midlands Police, who fly a Eurocopter EC-135 worth about $5 million, Sgt. Mitchell believes that it is not only important to provide the public with more information, but also a way for the public to provide feedback.  Twitter helps to do both of these.  Lastly, Sgt. Mitchell points out that all Twitter updates are done after the crew lands, and the helicopter is shut down.  No Tweeting from the cockpits of police helicopters. 

South Yorkshire Police Helicopter Unit

Another UK police helicopter unit tweeting about their work is the South Yorkshire Police Helicopter Unit.  According to Sgt. Helen Scothern- Head of the South Yorkshire Police Air Ops Unit, most people associate the helicopter only with car chases and criminals on the run, but just as important is the role the helicopter plays in curbing anti-social behavior and intelligence gathering.  The South Yorkshire Police Air Unit covers Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster.  Last year the unit flew for around 1200 hours and responded to over 5,000 calls or events. 

East Midlands Air Support Unit

The East Midlands Air Support Unit is also getting in on the tweeting action.  Patrolling Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire from their MD902 and EC 135 (based out of Shoreham Airport & RAF Odiham respectively) the crew of East Midlands Air Support recently tweeted; ” Lutterworth waste recycling centre:  Report of crime in progress – burglary.”

Twitter search

A quick search of Twitter revealed a total of at least 7 UK police helicopter units currently tweeting about their patrol activities.  Here are the units I found along with their Twitter address;

West Midlands Police Air Support-           @WMP_Helicopter

South Yorkshire Police Air Ops Unit-        @SYP_Airops

East Midlands Air Ops Unit-                      @EMASUHelicopter

Cheshire Police Helicopter Unit-               @Cheshirecopter

Kent and Essex Police Helicopter-             @QH99

South & East Whales Air Support-             @Helicops

Wiltshire Joint Police & Ambulance Helicopter-  @Wiltsairambo

During the same Twitter search I was unable to locate even a single Police or Sheriff’s Unit in the U.S. where the actual crews are posting their activities to Twitter. 

Since most U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies have embraced social networking on some level, even if it is only to post traffic conditions, or missing persons at risk, I predict that it is only a matter of time before we see police air units in the U.S. using Twitter as a way to connect with the public about their law enforcement activities.

Sources:  The Coventry Telegraph; BBC News; Twitter.com

So What's The Real Story Behind All Those Wacky Mesa Police Helicopter Videos On Youtube?

One of the main purpose of this site has always been to promote police aviation to the general public in a positive way.  In so doing I normally tend to avoid controversial subjects to the extent possible.  Not because I don’t want to take on a cause, but it just doesn’t play into the overall theme of the site. 

But every now and then something comes along that I just can’t turn a blind eye to.  Such is the case with a series of  rather silly, if not outright wacky videos on Youtube all about the Mesa Arizona Police Helicopter, Mesa Police Pilots, or the Mesa Police Air Support Unit.

In many ways this is an old story……as I will outline for you.  Why drag up old news right?  The problem is that while the story itself is somewhat stale, the videos live on in cyberspace ready to spring to life the moment someone does an internet search related to the Mesa Police Helicopter, or the Mesa Police Department’s Air Support Unit.  And since January of 2008, this often redundant series of videos has been viewed over 63,000 times, according to data from Youtube.   Some of the videos have since been reposted to other video sharing sites such as AOL video. 

And come to life they do with inflammatory titles such as;

“Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught With Pants Down!”

“Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Busted!!”

“Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught Giving It Hard All on Tape!!”

“Mesa Helicopter Pilots Terrorize A Innocent Woman!”

And the list of titles goes on and on until it reaches  25. 

The purpose of this article is not to attack the author of these videos.  Rather it is to provide balance for anyone who is seeking legitimate information online about the Mesa Police Air Support Unit. 

Take for example the one title “Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught With Pants Down!”  While used in a euphemistic fashion, it’s real purpose is to accuse and inflame.  When one clicks on the video however you get nothing more than 9 plus minutes of MD Helicopter rotor noise on four fixed cameras, and an occasional distant light from the helicopter.   It should be apparent to any observer (or listener) of the video that the helicopter is in a fairly wide orbit, as the rotor noise becomes louder and quieter depending on where the helicopter is at in the orbit.  No notable evidence of any wrongdoing and certainly nothing that rises to the euphemistic level of “getting caught with your pants down.”

The title “Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught Giving It Hard.  All On Tape!”  makes one really begin to wonder about the author’s state of mind.  In this 4:56 second video you are treated to about 2 minutes of silence, 30 seconds of fairly close MD Helicopter rotor noise, and about 2 minutes of barely audible rotor noise, again on a split screen of 4 fixed cameras.  Not quite sure what the pilot was supposed to be “giving it hard” to. 

In at least one of the videos it appears the author is in his vehicle chasing the Mesa Police Helicopter through the city streets, while instructing and encouraging a child in the vehicle to get the helicopter on video. 

In order to have a better understanding of what is really going on here, we need to go back  to November of 2006.  A Mesa Police Helicopter and crew is working a police call which happens to put the helicopter in the same neighborhood as one David Degroote (about 37 at the time).  The police helicopter wasn’t on some run of the mill misdemeanor, but was actively involved in a search for suspects in the theft of a bank automated teller machine.  At least one of the crew members were wearing NVG goggles to aid in both the search and flight safety.  While in the area of the Degroote residence the helicopter and crew were hit with a high powered spot light, for approximately 30 seconds, (remember that NVGs amplify ambient light at anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000 times.)  A bright spotlight shining on the police helicopter at night time is absolutely disruptive, dangerous and without question rises to the level of interfering with a law enforcement officer in the performance of his duties. 

In the coming weeks David Degroote would be arrested by the Mesa Police Department for shining the light at their Helicopter.  On 1-16-07 a criminal complaint was issued against Degroote for the misdemeanor charges of Endangerment, Disorderly Conduct and being a Criminal Nuisance.  At the time of his arrest and at the time the complaint was issued not one of  the 25 videos about the Mesa Police Helicopter or pilots had been uploaded to Youtube.  The 25 videos in question have all been posted under the Youtube user name of “justjumpnow.”

Let me pause here and say that Mr. Degroote could very well have had a legitimate noise complaint against the Mesa Police Helicopter.  Helicopters are admittedly noisy, and tend to annoy some people more than others.  Most law enforcement aviation units are well aware of the noise emitted by their helicopters and most take noise complaints from the public seriously.  Many law enforcement air support units go so far as to avoid noise sensitive areas all together when possible.  If Mr. Degroote did have a legitimate noise complaint in this case, it appears that he chose not to follow up on it in a professional and courteous manner and instead placed himself in a position of committing a criminal act. 

According to Degroote himself, on 12-6-06 (between the date of the alleged incident and the date the criminal complaint was issued) he filed an injunction [against harassment] against Officer David Dolenar Jr and the Mesa Police Department.  The injunction was never granted by the court.  However, on 2-1-07 Officer Dolenar filed an injunction to stop harassment, against David Degroote.  On 3-21-07 the injunction was issued by the court.  The court essentially agreed that Mr. Degroote was harassing Officer Dolenar.  (Source-  Letter published by the Degroote’s on the website Freedomsphoenix.com.)  I am intentionally not linking to the site, but it is there if you want to go searching for it.

One year later, in November of 2007 David Degroote was convicted of the misdemeanor charges of  Endangerment, Disorderly Conduct, and Criminal Nuisance, according to a story in the East Valley Tribune dated Nov 9 2007.  Degroote was ordered to serve 5 days in jail, with another 25 days suspended on the condition that he completes 3 years of probation and that he completes mandatory counseling. 

One of the videos posted by “justjumpnow” is of the local News 5 TV station doing a story about Degroote’s conviction and his ongoing feud with the Mesa Police Department.  Even while the story equally covers his conviction and his complaints, the video was titled “Mesa Police Illegal Helicopter Activity Revealed on News 5.”  Huh?

The first video about the Mesa Police Helicopter was not uploaded to Youtube until 1-14-08, after Degroote’s conviction and after he was ordered by the court to stop harassing Officer Dolenar.  The last video was uploaded on 9-1-08.  The on screen dates on the videos indicate that all but one of them was filmed in 2006 or 2007 with the vast majority being filmed in 2007.

Interestingly, there has been no activity and no logins by “justjumpnow” for over a year on his Youtube channel.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mr. Degroote remains on probation until around November of 2010.  If I had to guess I would guess that his Youtube activities were brought to the attention of his probation officer and or the judge, and he risked going back to jail if he continued, (pure speculation on my part.) 

Can a judge curtail someone’s freedom of speech in this manner while on probation.  Absolutely, by accepting probation in lieu of more jail time the defendant agrees to give up certain liberties, which can vary from case to case.  People routinely give up their 4th amendment rights to unreasonable search and seizure, (generally when on felony probation or when the crime involved a theft.)  It would be completely reasonable for the judge to prohibit Degroote from uploading inflammatory videos on Youtube, about the Mesa Police Helicopter, while he is on probation. 

I also noted that 9 of the videos were filmed on either 2-21-07 or 2-22-07 and some of them just before and just after midnight.  This would lead a normal person to believe that at least some of these 9 videos stem from one incident, or one radio call the Mesa Police Helicopter was involved in. 

So there you have it.  I will let you decide if Mr. Degroote and his family were targeted for harassment by the members of the Mesa Police Air Support Unit, or if Degroote embarked on a misguided campaign of filming and posting videos to Youtube as a way to get back at the police for his arrest and conviction. 

It seems to this writer that Mr. Degroote could have avoided a lot of heartache by going into the police station and having a friendly chat with the person in charge of the air unit, instead of picking up a spotlight.