You hear helicopters across the Los Angeles skies day or night, providing public safety and media coverage for millions of residents.
Members of the West Los Angeles Community Police Advisory Board (CPAB) toured the Air Support Division of the downtown Los Angeles Police Department Tuesday night. The division has the largest rooftop helipad in the country and is the largest police department aerial unit in the world, according to Officer Carlos Martin.
"JPL and NASA studied that just the sound of a helicopter prevents crime," he said, noting it's fairly easy to spot a suspect vehicle on the ground based on the way the driver's operating it.
CPAB members saw the facility, which has panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles, and also viewed a launch, landing and fly-by. Martin showed off one of LAPD's 8315 ASTAR helicopters and one of its Bell 206's. The helipad, which holds 17 helicopters, is also utilized by other public safety agencies such as the Los Angeles Fire Department and the federal government.
The division operates a second facility in Van Nuys.
"How long would it take to get to Century City from here?" asked one CPAB member.
"Two to three minutes," Martin said, adding that variables like the wind will play a factor in estimated arrival time. "They can travel 140 mile per hour in a straight shot. We use about 200 prominent landmarks in L.A., such as Dodger Stadium."
Martin said most police helicopters seat two people: the pilot and the observer. The observer is just as highly trained as the pilot to be a tactical flight officer, Martin added, which is a very specialized job. There are currently approximately 85 sworn officers in the Air Support Division, he said.
Before ballistic panels were commonplace, Martin said there had not been too many incidents where people had fired a gun at an LAPD helicopter, but added there was one incident where a round went through a 90-gallon fuel bladder and the helicopter lost all of its fuel in about 40 seconds, but was able to make a safe landing.
"We can stay up in the air for two-and-a-half hours," he said, citing Federal Aviation Association regulations.
CPAB member Haldis Toppel of Pacific Palisades said following the tour that she used to be a flight attendent for Continental Airlines, and was quickly encouraged to take flying lessons. She flew races for the Power Puff Derby and also flew a Piper Twin Comanche to Europe and back. Touring the facility Tuesday night piqued her interest.
"The Air Support Division is an extremely capable unit," Toppel said, citing how useful police helicopters were in nabbing two neighborhood burglars in August 2012.
Martin stated some additional statistics about the division in 2012, including:
- It flew 17,577 hours
- Responded to 47,746 radio calls
- Were first on the scene 16,000 times
- Established 1,537 perimeters (when you hear helicopters hovering nearby)
- Engaged in 240 vehicle pursuits
- Engaged in 836 foot persuits
- Recovered 679 vehicles