One of the most popular posts I get tagged in on Facebook and Twitter is,
“Police helicopters are over my neighborhood. Mike, do you know why?”
To the average citizen, the first thing that comes to mind is that the police are looking for a suspect involved in a serious crime. Although that is very possible, it is not always the reason why they are flying overhead.
The New York City Police Department Aviation Unit is one of the first law enforcement aviation units. The unit was established in 1929 and is still stationed at its original home at the Floyd Bennett Air Field in Brooklyn. It was first established to address the enormous amount of “Barnstormers” that had descended on the city with performing stunts and offering rides.
The NYPD Aviation Unit can get from their base at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn to the top of the Bronx in just minutes. The helicopters are equipped for rescues on land and sea, and the pilots utilize top of the line technology in keeping New York City safe. They truly are the NYPD eyes in the sky.
The Unit routinely conducts patrols across the city. They are often already in the air when they are requested by precinct personnel. The NYPD helicopters are used for countless operations and services.
The Aviation Unit has adjusted to a broader role, which includes counter-terrorism operations. The members conduct daily assessments of the bridges and other critical infrastructure throughout the city.
They search for missing persons classified as a “special category.” These include missing elderly with significant health issues, and young children that do not appear to be runaways.
The helicopters are used to conduct suspect searches, as well. They assist and guide police units on the ground to apprehend suspects. They also assist local precincts in addressing ongoing community concerns and crime patterns by surveying the landscape.
Additionally, the eye in the sky is used to monitor traffic, assist with dignitary protection, but one of the most prolific uses is for water rescues.
During water rescues they transport NYPD Harbor Unit divers, deploy ropes for repelling and assist other agencies during operations.
During a search the NYPD Helicopter may sometimes appear to be a distance away from the area being searched. This gives the crew the ability to scan a larger area, especially if the incident is in the water.
The NYPD Helicopters do not necessarily need to utilize a searchlight at night. The helicopters are now equipped with modern technology that includes infrared systems that help locate suspects or persons in need of assistance, such as in locating a person in the water.
The NYPD Aviation Air and Sea Rescue unit has participated in more water rescue missions since the United States Coast Guard reassigned their helicopter units from the metro area. The nearest Coast Guard units respond from Cape Cod, MA or Atlantic City, NJ.
Each Air and Sea Rescue Helicopter is staffed with two pilots, a crew chief, and two Police Officer Scuba unit divers. The unit is staffed 24 hours a day, 7days a week, ready for deployment at a moment’s notice, covering up to a 60-mile radius around New York City.
This video depicts some of the operations the NYPD Aviation Unit is deployed for on a daily basis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vakofaAd4Lc
By Community Education Council 31 President Michael Reilly