For over four decades, the pilots and helicopters that make up Long Beach Police Department’s Air Support Unit have played a vital role in supporting the area’s law enforcement tactics. Not only does the unit aid in vehicle pursuits, they allow the police force to conduct more thorough searches for missing persons, help coordinate and set up perimeters, and provide information to ground officers. In 2013, helicopter units assisted ground units with locating and apprehending more than 380 felony suspects in the Long Beach area.
In recent months, police departments from surrounding areas have grounded their helicopter operations, often citing cost as the main factor. LBPD Police Chief Jim McDonnell believes the cost is justified by the overwhelming benefits the program provides to the city. In a recent interview, McDonnell referred to the helicopters as “force-multipliers,” stating that “a helicopter can help do the job of 20 to 25 ground officers.”
The force’s helicopters also significantly decrease response time to calls received by the department. LBPD pilot Brian Armstrong estimated that it takes approximately three minutes to fly from one side of the city to the other, meaning the helicopters are usually the first on the scene and can provide essential tactical information to ground officers before they even arrive.
In November 2013, Fueling California, a nonprofit advocacy group for major fuel consumers donated $10,000 to help offset some of the helicopter fuel costs. The contribution will provide fuel for about three months. Looking to the future, the Long Beach PD hopes to replace their decade-old video systems in their helicopters, funded by a federal grant.
To read more about the Long Beach Police Department’s Air Support unit, click here.