Eagle-eye view on offenders
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.
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.