Ea­gle-eye view on of­fend­ers

Central Leader - - News - By Ni­cola Wil­liams

Af­ter com­ing back down to earth the Ea­gle he­li­copter crew mem­bers are still on a high.

Staff in the highly sought af­ter po­si­tions on the po­lice he­li­copter squad at­tended 3664 jobs in the year to Fe­bru­ary, vary­ing from homi­cides to graf­fiti of­fences.

“It is a unique po­lice ve­hi­cle that al­lows us to utilise po­lice skills in a dif­fer­ent man­ner,” says of­fi­cer in charge sergeant Colin Ware.

The Ea­gle op­er­ates from Me­chan­ics Bay with a civil­ian pilot and two po­lice of­fi­cers who nav­i­gate and ob­serve the ac­tion be­low.

With their ex­cel­lent view of the ground they are able to co­or­di­nate ground crew.

Their binoc­u­lars are so pow­er­ful they can iden­tify the watch an of­fender is wear­ing from the sky.

Once the air­crew spots an of­fender they are able to di­rect ground units into po­si­tion to make an ar­rest.

A com­puter keeps track of crime in­ci­dents and staff need to be able to iden­tify where their at­ten­dance can add value to a job.

The of­fi­cers must be able to deal with the de­mands of rig­or­ous fly­ing.

It is not for the faint­hearted or those with a weak stom­ach.

A trial pe­riod tests whether prospec­tive crew can over­come air­sick­ness and some de­cide, as al­lur­ing as the job is, they are un­suit­able.

Switch­ing be­tween mapread­ing and the view out­side Ea­gle can be chal­leng­ing.

Of­fi­cers need to know what they are look­ing at be­low rel­a­tive to a map, and re­quire good de­ci­sion-mak­ing and pri­ori­ti­sa­tion skills.

Se­nior con­sta­ble Shane Gayly says there is de­tach­ment from face-to-face po­lice work but not the ex­cite­ment of the job.

He says the pur­suits can be ex­cit­ing but the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pub­lic safety is huge.

They are the only dedi- cated air­borne unit in the coun­try and get calls for as­sis­tance out­side the Auck­land re­gion.

Mr Ware says the num­ber of jobs has in­creased over the years so they are not al­ways able to pro­vide as­sis­tance else­where.

He says the pub­lic can help po­lice by re­port­ing sus­pi­cious be­hav­iour and tak­ing note of as many de­tails about a car or of­fender as pos­si­ble to help iden­tify them.

Get­ting the in­for­ma­tion quickly is crit­i­cal, Mr Ware says.

“It’s a great re­source but it’s only as good as the in­for­ma­tion we get.”

At night the in­frared sys­tem gives the crew a heat pic­ture of the ground, and a spot­light al­lows them to il­lu­mi­nate a large area.

In a few min­utes they can search ar­eas that would take ground crews hours.

“This unit helps lots of peo­ple reg­u­larly,” says Mr Ware.

The sat­is­fac­tion of the job is re­flected in low staff turnover.

“It would take some­one with a crow­bar to get me out of here,” he says.

Highly skil­lled: Se­nior con­sta­ble Shane Gay­ley nav­i­gates for the pilot.

High po­si­tion: Colin Ware is in a job that he loves as part of the Ea­gle team.

Pho­tos: FIONA GOODALL

Eye in the sky: With a great view of the ac­tion, the Ea­gle can di­rect staff on the ground to catch of­fend­ers.

Home base: The crew is based at Me­chan­ics Bay.

Auck­land based: The Ea­gle is the only ded­i­cated air­borne unit, cov­er­ing the Auck­land area and help­ing out­side of the city when they are able.

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