Airborne LE & Major Events

Most agencies have at least one major event annually in their jurisdiction. Events such as concerts, carnivals, state fairs and biker rallies all require planning and resources. In major cities like New York, these events seem to come almost weekly, while other agencies might have to meet this challenge once a year. In any department, an airborne law enforcement aircraft can be a very valuable asset to make your event run smoothly and professionally.


During the months and weeks leading up to the event, airborne law enforcement aircraft can be utilized in a variety of unique and different ways. In addition to the very obvious use of providing aerial photos and video, remember to include aircraft in the events tactical plans. Some questions to consider:

  1. What if major traffic jams develop? Could we move personnel via aircraft in an emergency? Perhaps some tactical officers assigned to an aircraft in case of an assist officer call with a significant delay of ground units due to heavy traffic volume.
  2. What if a person needs to be flown out of the event for a medical emergency? Many airborne law enforcement aircraft are medevac capable but if not, who would provide this service? What pre-planned helistops or landing zones could be used? Remember that huge parking lot with a million spaces that looks like the perfect spot will be filled to capacity as well as the open field next to it with overflow cars.
  3. What if our agencies aircraft was grounded at the last minute due to a maintenance consideration, do we have a back-up aircraft or another agency aircraft available for a mutual aid?
  4. Are all participants briefed and familiar with the ICS and aviation related terms such as helispot and helibase? This is critically important when working with military aircraft that might not be as familiar with the terms as the first responder community.
  5. What would happen if there was a "catastrophic incident"? Would there be an adequate supply of aviation fuel and spare parts in order to sustain operations for 3-5 days?

Major Event Day

Hopefully, all the pre-planning and meetings will allow for a relatively smooth event. As in all of police work, Mr. Murphy likes to make his presence known and problems will always arise. All flight crew should be well briefed and kept up-to-date on any possible problems or situations. In can literally be the difference between life and death. Several years ago, the US Navy was visiting an east coast city and there was credible intelligence that a speedboat laden with explosives could try and attack one of the visiting naval vessels. The US Navy made it very clear that local law enforcement would be expected to engage any such threats up to a classified point, then the US Navy would deploy their defenses. Local law enforcement aircraft and boats were told NOT to penetrate this point as they could potentially be in the line of fire. Valuable information indeed!

There should be adequate rest and refreshment facilities for all flight crews especially during very hot and humid weather. An aircraft cockpit can be a "greenhouse" and flight crews could become dehydrated in a very short amount of time. Commanders must watch for and combat fatigue and insure that there are adequate relief crews to assure operations can be sustained.

Since air operations tend to be located a fair distance from the event, aviation commanders must periodically check-in with the command post for any updates or new instructions.

Post Event Critique

If held, airborne law enforcement should attend. Remember that aviation tends to be a mystery to many command staff personnel and any questions or suggestions could be clarified easily. When a major east coast department was flying the Mayor and Police Commissioner on a mission, the flight crew elected to land at an airport to allow a thunderstorm to pass through. Some members of the executive staff wondered aloud why a $10 million dollar aircraft with all its sophisticated equipment had to land for a storm. It was politely explained, with the assistance of a few photos showing aircraft that encountered thunderstorms and lost. That indeed even a Boeing 747 will avoid thunderstorms. Everyone involved got a quick lesson and new found respect for thunderstorms!

When you plan for your agencies next major event, remember to include the airborne law enforcement unit. They can provide valuable support to insure the events success!