The Airborne Law Enforcement Association held their 37th Conference and Exposition in the sunny confines of Orlando, Florida from Monday, July 9 to Saturday, July 14, 2007 at the Orange County Convention Center. The conference and exposition is always preceded by pre-conference classes, and this year was no different. Among the pre-conference course offerings were the Aviation Unit Manager's Course, Safety Course, Certified Flight Instructor, and Refresher and Advanced Thermal Imaging. Attendees seemed very pleased with the courses and many vowed to attend next year's conference in Houston, Texas.
The main conference opened on Wednesday, July 11th with over 160 vendors displaying their goods and services. It seems that the technology movement continues, as high definition aerial cameras, downlinking of aerial images, night vision goggles and moving maps continued to make their presence known. These tools all help to make the airborne law enforcement mission more safe and effective. All the major aircraft manufacturers were in attendance, including AgustaWestland, American Eurocopter, Bell, Cessna, MD Helicopter and Schweizer. Most manufacturers brought actual aircraft into the convention center for display. American Eurocopter presented the Seminole County (FL) Sheriffs Office with the "keys" to a brand new AS-350B3 A-Star. If you wanted to examine any good or service related to airborne law enforcement aviation, this was the place. Other products displayed included hoists, safety equipment, avionics and maintenance services.
Learning continued during the main conference as shorter courses were being offered. Some of the short courses included airborne counter-terrorism strategies, dunker training, grant and budget strategies, fixed wing operations and vendor updates. The courses were well-received and provided good, solid airborne law enforcement information to all those that attended.
Each evening, a social "networking" event was sponsored by an ALEA affiliate vendor. On Thursday, it was "piano madness," sponsored by MD Helicopter. Everyone had a wonderful time either catching up with old friends or making new ones, all while being entertained by two piano players singing requested favorites. On Friday, it was American Eurocopters' "Friday Night Live Comedy Show" which featured two comedians. Finally, on Saturday, the ALEA hosted their annual awards luncheon, recognizing many of the persons that have worked for many years to make airborne law enforcement a safe and effective tool in the crime fighting business. A particularly poignant moment was the recognition of those police aviators killed in the line of duty. The aviators' absence was symbolized by a fully set table, reserved for them, but empty--a not so-subtle reminder that this can be a very dangerous business. These events serve two purposes; one, they are a fun and friendly way to share the police brotherhood, and more importantly, it allows airborne law enforcement personnel the opportunity to solve common problems and learn new ideas, all while having a great time. The networking opportunities are priceless as aviators from around the world share thoughts, stories and solutions.
The Bad News and Good News
So, what are the trends? The bad news is that the high tide of goodwill after the events of September 11, 2001 is waning, and funding is becoming more and more of a challenge. Unfortunately, eight police aviation units have literally closed their doors in the past year alone, leaving their ground counterparts without an essential and often life-saving tool. In case you think it is just the very small departments that have been closed, in recent years the Detroit (MI) Aviation Unit was among the casualties. The eighth largest metropolitan area in the United States is now without their own airborne law enforcement support. It can happen anywhere! The good news is that many agencies are accepting new aircraft, all equipped with the latest in technology. In addition, many agencies are upgrading their current fleet with newer equipment and accessories. The goal? To support the officer on the street in achieving their mission more safely and effectively.
Safety is also a priority for airborne law enforcement, and this message was always being transmitted loud and clear. Matt Zuccaro, the president of Helicopter Association International was present at the conference, and participated in a panel discussion on aircraft safety. It is nice to see the airborne law enforcement community and the leading helicopter trade association joining as partners in the quest for no accidents. Their goal of reducing helicopter accidents 80% by the year 2016 is bold. The industry has assembled a prestigious team named the "International Helicopter Safety Team." As outlined in Mr. Zuccaro's presentation, the team is off to a great start in achieving that goal.
ALEA 2007: Mission accomplished!