Eyes in the sky

He­li­copter pi­lots for LASD share thoughts on their roles in law en­force­ment

The Signal - - FRONT PAGE - By Cory Ru­bin Sig­nal Staff Writer

When sher­iff’s deputies pur­sue sus­pects through al­leys and streets through­out the Santa Clarita Val­ley, their lives are on the line, and any ad­van­tage can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween mak­ing the ar­rest and chas­ing the ones who got away.

En­ter the Aero Bureau of the Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment.

A re­cent “ride-along” with the long arm of the law’s eyes in the sky al­lowed one of the Sher­iff’s De­part­ment’s most ex­clu­sive units to share what they felt their role is in keep­ing the Santa Clarita Val­ley safe, from a few thou­sand feet in the air.

Shortly after take­off, the he­li­copter took off from the pad at the Santa Clarita Val­ley Sher­iff’s Sta­tion and banked over Magic Moun­tain Park­way head­ing north to the Pitchess De­ten­tion Cen­ter.

The ra­dio crack­led to life with the re­port of an as­sault tak­ing place near Sierra High­way in Agua Dulce.

Us­ing spe­cial­ized binoc­u­lars, Tac­ti­cal Flight Deputy Misty Trejo spot­ted sev­eral black-and-white pa­trol cars form­ing a con­tain­ment. Within sec­onds, Aero

Bureau pi­lot Sgt. Mor­rie Zager guided the he­li­copter into a tight canyon, above the Sher­iff’s De­part­ment’s ve­hi­cles below them.

With the flip of a sil­ver switch, Trejo’s voice echoed through­out the small rugged canyon.

“This is the Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment. Walk out­side and make con­tact with the near­est sher­iff’s deputy.”

De­spite the ap­par­ent aerial pres­ence, the man bar­ri­caded in­side his home did not va­cate.

How­ever, the sus­pect ac­cused of as­sault did call the sher­iff’s sta­tion to com­plain about the he­li­copter’s noise.

For the team in the air, it’s not just about mak­ing their pres­ence known, or spot­ting vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties for deputies on the ground. Their work is also the re­al­iza­tion of a long-held goal.

“It’s some­thing that I was al­ways in­ter­ested in do­ing within (LASD),” Trejo said. “I wasn’t sure if I’d get there, but ev­ery­thing lined up and I ended up get­ting to come up here — and it’s the best job in the world.”

The green, yel­low and tan Euro­copter AS350 B2s is not an un­com­mon sight, fre­quently seen sur­vey­ing the hills and val­leys that make up the SCV.

LASD’s he­li­copters pro­vide a unique van­tage point for deputies on the ground that wouldn’t oth­er­wise be avail­able.

“When we’re up in the air, we see the big pic­ture,” Zager said. “When you’re down on the street, you’re lim­ited by trees, by shrub­bery and by walls.”

It’s up to teams like Trejo and Zager to es­sen­tially draw a pic­ture for the deputies on the ground, they said.

“Our abil­ity to guide them by paint­ing a pic­ture with our words re­ally gives them an ad­van­tage. (Ground units) are deal­ing with fences and bar­ri­ers and back­yards,” Trejo said. “They can’t see some­body that may be on the other side of the fence, po­ten­tially with a gun or some other weapon, wait­ing to harm them.”

While the Aero Bureau’s bird’s-eye view might place it above the im­me­di­ate dan­ger deputies on the ground face, LASD’s aerial strat­egy still presents chal­lenges for pi­lots, as well as for the tac­ti­cal flight deputy.

“There can be some very dif­fi­cult fly­ing con­di­tions,” Zager said, adding the dark, moun­tain­ous ter­rain sur­round­ing the SCV is also among the most con­gested airspace in the coun­try.

Trejo, whose job is to keep in con­tact with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent per­son­nel, in­clud­ing dis­patch, ground units and air traf­fic con­trol, faces her own set of unique chal­lenges. “Go­ing around in cir­cles, it’s easy to get dis­ori­ented, es­pe­cially at night,” she said, “and lis­ten­ing to six dif­fer­ent ra­dios re­quires you to step it up and key in on who’s talk­ing.”

How­ever, know­ing that their in­for­ma­tion can make the dif­fer­ence for her team­mates on the ground makes it all worth­while for Trejo.

“I al­ways looked up to the guys and gals in Aero Bureau when I worked on pa­trol,” Trejo said. “When Aero would pass over­head, (I) al­ways got this sense of calm­ness, so when things were chaotic and you had some­body run­ning or any­thing that was high stress, once Aero came over­head, I knew that they would guide me, and I al­ways ad­mired that.”

Austin Dave/The Sig­nal (See ad­di­tional pho­tos at sig­nalscv.com)

Tac­ti­cal Flight Deputy Misty Trejo flies over the Santa Clarita Val­ley in a Euro­copter AS350 B2s on Mon­day. Trejo is part of the Aero Bureau of the Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment. For a video story on the bureau, visit Sig­nalSCV.com.

Austin Dave/The Sig­nal (See ad­di­tional pho­tos at sig­nalscv.com)

Sgt. Mor­rie Zager and Deputy Misty Trejo are part of the Aero Bureau of the Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment, which of­fers sup­port and in­for­ma­tion to law en­force­ment of­fi­cials on the ground.

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