The same scene plays out in many jurisdictions every day: patrol officers, responding to a crime in progress call such as a robbery, burglary etc. see the suspect and a foot pursuit is initiated. The suspect runs into backyards but the patrol officers contain the subject by establishing a solid perimeter. An airborne law enforcement unit arrives overhead and using a thermal imager relays the movement of the subject within the backyards. Possibly realizing the futility of running, the subject hides in a small shed. Finally a K-9 officer arrives with their trusted partner and the dog is released into the yard where the subject was last seen by the helicopter. Very quickly cries of mercy are heard and the subject meekly surrenders. The capture is the essence of teamwork, coordination and just good police work. The best part is that no officers were injured and a very bad guy has been taken off the street.
In many agencies, the relationship between airborne law enforcement and K-9 officers is a close one. When both resources are used together, they make up an almost unbeatable team. The airborne law enforcement unit works best in containing the subject and in many cases causing the suspect to attempt to hide or at least stop running. The dangerous aspect of officers now approaching the subject is at least minimized by the K-9 going in and neutralizing the suspect. One K-9 officer commented on the strong relationship between the K-9 and airborne law enforcement team.
If a subject is contained within a perimeter, there is a very slim chance that they will successfully be able to elude the aircraft and dog. The best part is we are able to search quickly and effectively while minimizing the danger to responding officers.
Given the knowledge base of the K-9 officer and the airborne crew, their experience often gives them an edge when searching. "Searches are our thing. Although nothing is ever a sure bet, many bad guys react in a similar fashion and sometimes our past experience can help to quickly locate the subject and end the search quickly", notes a Newark Police K-9 officer. "We rely on the airborne unit to help pinpoint the subject's location to begin our search." Sometimes, the tremendous show of force, including numerous ground officers, a thundering helicopter overhead and the arrival of a very eager and barking k-9 are enough to break the will of the most hardened subject. They surrender is truly their only option and their only request is not to let the K-9 get them!
By far, the greatest challenge in establishing a secure perimeter is making sure all sides are covered adequately. Naturally, it is rare that the perimeter is a square and we must account for longer blocks, curves, geographical challenges, railroads etc. The airborne unit can be especially crucial in seeing any gaps in coverage and relying that information to ground officers. Ground personnel can query the airborne unit and ask if they see any of these gaps to help further secure a perimeter. If the ground units anticipate the services of airborne assets, they should call sooner than later. It is much better to get the aircraft enroute and have to cancel them than to decide 20 minutes into an incident that you should have called for the aircraft. Many suspects, questioned during a debriefing, believe the helicopter can always see them so they are reluctant to make major moves like running through several yards. Rather, they try to become stealthier and hide along fence lines, small structures or under bushes or brush.
Always remember that the thermal imager has limitations. Despite the movies and television it cannot see into buildings, under water or through heavy foliage. This is where the airborne/K 9 team can really shine. A west coast agency was chasing several armed robbery suspects in a vehicle. The suspects suddenly pulled over and fled into dense brush. The overhead airborne law enforcement unit saw the subjects flee into the brush but then lost them under the dense cover. At the very least, the airborne crew could clearly see if they would come out the other side of the bushes or stay and hide among the bushes and trees. The airborne unit directed ground units into optimum position to contain the suspects and a K-9 officer soon arrived. The three suspects were quickly captured. After they were taken into custody, the K-9 continued a search and recovered three loaded handguns.
Many airborne units will de-brief with K9 officers after a search to compare observations and what worked or what surprises they encountered. One airborne law enforcement unit was concerned that the aircraft noise might distract the dog. The handler assured them that he never even saw the dog react to the aircraft. It was as if the dog knew the aircraft was the good guys and continued on doing the search. It is also helpful for the k-9 officer to understand and know the aircrafts limitations. It can help them focus on areas that the handler knows cannot clearly be seen by the aircraft.
Most officers have experienced the tremendous satisfaction of a successful perp search when the whole team comes together. The patrol officers do a great job of containing, the airborne unit pinpoints a location and finally the k-9 moves in for the takedown. From the flight deck, it is always satisfying to watch in the thermal images as the dog bears down on the hapless suspect, knowing in a few seconds, the chase will be concluded.
The cooperation and success of all units involved, without any injuries to any law enforcement personnel is a great day by any standards!