On Tuesday, November 14 and Wednesday, November 15, police aviators from around the world gathered at the Olympia Conference Center in London, England for a two-day conference on police aviation. The show, sponsored by The Shepard Group, a publishing and event organizing company, brought together police aviation operators from a wide and diverse range of nations including the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, Germany, France and Canada.
The two-day conference consisted of numerous speakers from these different countries that made for very interesting and informative presentations on a wide array of police aviation subjects. The topics included counter-terrorism issues and concerns, cross-border operations, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), night vision goggle technology, military/law enforcement joint operations, crew resource management, the introduction of new aircraft to a police fleet, and emerging trends and technologies. In addition to the presentations, there were a large number of vendors and manufacturers available displaying their products or services unique to the police aviation sector.
Police Aviation Unit Differences
Besides the obvious language and cultural differences, police aviation in other parts of the world is conducted differently in some aspects. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) monitors and regulates police aviation operations through the issuance of a "police air operator's certificate." This is a formal document that is issued to all police aviation operators in the United Kingdom. This document strictly regulates the police aviation operators. In the United States, police aviation units are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration through the Code of Federal Regulations, however they do not issue any "formal" operating certificate to police aviation units that solely regulate police aviation operations. In addition, the pilot of a police aircraft in the UK cannot be a sworn police officer. The CAA feels the emotional interest of a police officer in a particular mission might outweigh the flying interest and compromise safety. A three-person crew, two observers and one pilot, conduct all police operations in the UK. Some countries also have a unique problem, the very real and very dangerous situation of being located next to countries that clearly allow no access to their airspace. The penalty for violating the other country's airspace is the possibility of being shot down! Other countries also have a "National Police Force" that conducts all their aerial police operations. Most European domestic law enforcement agencies also do limited tactical work. Military aviation assets conduct the bulk of the tactical work, such as fast roping and rappelling.
Police Aviation Unit Similarities
As each speaker presented, one theme kept getting clearer and clearer: no matter what language spoken, what customs or traditions followed, all police aviation operators seem to have the same bosses! Regardless of the uniform worn, all police aviation operators are faced with some of the same challenges. Personnel issues, mainly a lack of enough trained and qualified persons, seems to be a constant problem. As exists in many agencies, the training and retention of personnel always needs to be addressed and remains a huge concern. The issue of funding is universal. Almost every unit in attendance was faced with the issue of being asked to do more with less money. Every police aviation operator is seeking new and innovative ways to get the required funding to maintain their operations. Another issue common to almost every police aviation operation is the lack of understanding by senior management regarding the capabilities and limitations of police aviation. Many upper level managers just do not understand that police aviation is truly a combination of two industries: police and aviation. Sometimes this combination works very well, and sometimes the two collide head-on like two speeding locomotives. An example is in the United Kingdom. The CAA strictly regulates a pilot's duty time. There are very few acceptable exceptions to this rule. This can be difficult, if not impossible, to explain to a commander why the police helicopter must leave during a police operation. The emerging technologies, namely microwave down linking, have strained all operators to their limits. As the technology gets better and better and commanders see the benefits of the live video, the police aviation unit gets more and more requests. The outcome is a double edged sword; on one hand, it makes the police aviation unit more valuable and viewed as a necessity, on the other hand, the resources of staff and machine are being stretched to their absolute limits. Finally, it was obvious that operators in attendance placed safety as the cornerstone of their operations. It seems like the safety message is high on every operator's agenda and priority list.
The Kinship and Fraternity
Not unexpectedly, the kinship and fraternity of police officers was clearly evident at the conference. During lunches, breaks, dinners and back at the conference hotel, all in attendance shared stories, laughter and friendship. Business cards were exchanged, problems and solutions were discussed and information was exchanged. As with many police events, the networking was invaluable. Regardless of what country or what agency, the police fraternity was as strong as ever.