Building a Better Future with Airborne Law Enforcement Technology...
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Building a Better Future with Airborne Law Enforcement Technology and Networking with your Partner Agencies

By Lance Wood, Deputy, Director of Aviation, Maryland State Police; contributions by Corporal Bill Jansen

Lance Wood, Deputy, Director of Aviation, Maryland State Police; contributions by Corporal Bill Jansen

The Maryland State Police Aviation Command (MSPAC) was officially created in 1960 with a primary mission of law enforcement and aerial Search & Rescue. It was on March 19, 1970, that the Aviation Command performed the first civilian Medevac transport of an injured patient from a crash that occurred on the Baltimore Beltway to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Since that time, our mission has expanded and we have acquired innovative equipment and technologies that have vastly improved our mission capability.

Our primary mission since 1970 has been in the role of providing Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) to the citizens of Maryland. However, our mission has grown to include other mission sets since that time. The Maryland State Police Aviation Command (MSPAC)does not charge for any patient transports. MSPAC has 10 AW-139 helicopters, with seven aircraft sections statewide. The Aviation Command has completed more than 180,000 public safety missions and transported more than 150,000 patients since 1970. 

Today’s MSPAC multi-mission profile includes helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS), Airborne Law Enforcement, Search & Rescue, Homeland Security, Disaster Assessment and Airborne Conservation Enforcement,all of which enhances its reputation of being the finest public safety airborne support platform in the world. MSPAC has approximately 214 positions that include pilots, trooper/paramedics, maintenance technicians, command staff and administrative personnel. Next year will be the50th Anniversary of our program and we are extremely proud of the unique multi-mission profile that we provide to the citizens of Maryland, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

"The technology of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the law enforcement community has emerged and proven to be cost-effective in certain mission sets. UAS is a practical piece of mission equipment to assist today’s law enforcement officers during times that a manned aircraft is unavailable or not warranted"

In the Airborne Law Enforcement community, our colleagues worldwide have helped to shape, mold and steer the needs and expectations in the field of technology as it advances, to make Airborne Law Enforcement more efficient and effective. Present day law enforcement has advanced exponentially using cutting-edge cameras, downlink technology and other equipment that improves officer safety through cost savings and aids in quick resolutions to crisis and emergency operations. The days of our patrol officers rushing immediately into potentially dangerous situations has been reduced due to the advanced technologies that are used in both manned and unmanned airborne law enforcement operations.

MSPAC utilizes an L3 CommunicationsWescam Mx-15i, which is superior in its class of forward looking infrared camera’s (FLIR). This system utilizes 3 different types of sensors which include a daytime camera and an infrared camera system. This cutting-edge equipment provides the, “eyes in the sky”, during Search & Rescue and Law Enforcement missions. Some examples include critically missing children, person’s in the water who are in peril, lost hikers or injured and stranded recreationist to name a few. On the law enforcement side, this technology allows enhanced officer safety by allowing our flight crews to be able to scan a perimeter for situational awareness for our trooper officers on the ground. This technology greatly enhances the acuity of the officers on the ground through the “eye in the sky”, and has aided in preventing our officers from being exposed to potentially dangerous situations. A downlink system within the camera allows video to be streamed in real-time to officers on the ground via a portable unit, which gives the officers on the ground an actual live “birds eye view of the scene.” This capability in today’s environment provides invaluable information and should be considered minimum operational equipment. To have the ability to conduct these missions more effectively and efficiently, means less time needed while airborne on station, which ultimately can reduce operational costs associated with the program.

The technology of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the law enforcement community has emerged and proven to be cost effective in certain mission sets.UAS isa practical piece of mission equipment to assist today’s law enforcement officers during times that a manned aircraft is unavailable or not warranted. This advanced technology also allows officers to stream images, video in real-time via the internet directly to command posts and other offsite locations where Commanders can monitor developing situations. The information gained aids in making better-informed decisions. A UAS can be placed into areas that would otherwise normally be dangerous to a patrol officer. Today’s UAS are now being equipped with high-powered zoom lenses, infrared technology, spotlights and PA systems. These equipment innovative features are helping to propel the trends in the Airborne Law Enforcement industry. Often times without the proper advanced equipment for our law enforcement officers and helicopters, it is possible to spend many more hours doing the same mission without a successful outcome.

How does a law enforcement organization know what equipment they need? How do they stay up to speed with operational resources and equipment that is available to be efficient and effective in the industry? The answers are very much embedded within one’sown agency. One of the best ways to gather information is to talk to the men and women who lace up their boots, zip up their flight suits, put on their helmets and strap on their aircraft to fly these missions. These men and women are subject matter experts in their fields and are very knowledgeable. They read, network and communicate with other partner agencies who have fielded new products that we as an industry might glean. It is also essential to reach out and utilize your law enforcement network community for equipment procurement and product ideas and to share the pros and cons with each other.By networking with your partners, it has the potential to pay off in dividends by saving your department money through the understanding and challenges of the procurement process that are faced when trying to obtain the latest in innovative equipment technology.

Many agencies are very welcoming in allowing members of other partnering agencies to fly along during duty shifts to gain knowledge of the equipment during a live mission. This is another low cost, invaluable networking, and training opportunity. Invite other agencies to see your program and encourage them to ask questions regarding best practices on how best to implement your new equipment. Recognize weaknesses in your program and work to develop a plan to fix them as a way to improve the program. New technologies do come with a monetary cost; however, saving the life of a young boy or elderly person who wandered away from their house and is lost in the woods during the frigid cold of winter is relying heavily on us to rescue them using the advanced technology that is available. Time is of the essence in these situations. Each day that we put on our uniform or we strap on the helicopter, we all have a fantastic mission of saving lives and protecting the public.

I am honored to work in the MSPAC and to have the opportunity to perform the same five core missions that I was performing during my Coast Guard career prior to my retirement. I am also very proud of the opportunity to build on the professional leadership and be a part of the men and women of such an elite and fine organization, here in the Maryland State Police Aviation Command. An Admiral once said to me early in my career, “leadership is not only about being in charge, but taking care of those in your charge.”I began to understand his statement more as my career advanced into the many leadership positions, the importance of being able to take care of your people.

The early years of Airborne Law Enforcement operations is certainly different in many ways now that we have new technology which is driving how it is performed today.

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