Patrolling the skies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s ‘eye in the sky’

When sheriff’s deputies pursue suspects through alleys and streets throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, their lives are on the line, and any advantage can make the difference between making the arrest and chasing the ones who got away.

Enter the Aero Bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

A recent “ride-along” with the long arm of the law’s eyes in the sky allowed one of the Sheriff’s Department’s most exclusive units to share what they felt their role is in keeping the Santa Clarita Valley safe, from a few thousand feet in the air.

Shortly after takeoff, the helicopter took off from the pad at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station and banked over Magic Mountain Parkway heading north to the Pitchess Detention Center.

The radio crackled to life with the report of an assault taking place near Sierra Highway in Agua Dulce.

Using specialized binoculars, Tactical Flight Deputy Misty Trejo spotted several black-and-white patrol cars forming a containment. Within seconds, Aero Bureau pilot Sgt. Morrie Zager guided the helicopter into a tight canyon, above the Sheriff’s Department’s vehicles below them.

With the flip of a silver switch, Trejo’s voice echoed throughout the small rugged canyon.

“This is the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Walk outside and make contact with the nearest sheriff’s deputy.”

Despite the apparent aerial presence, the man barricaded inside his home did not vacate.

However, the suspect accused of assault did call the sheriff’s station to complain about the helicopter’s noise.

For the team in the air, it’s not just about making their presence known, or spotting vulnerabilities for deputies on the ground. Their work is also the realization of a long-held goal.

“It’s something that I was always interested in doing within (LASD),” Trejo said. “I wasn’t sure if I’d get there, but everything lined up and I ended up getting to come up here — and it’s the best job in the world.”

The green, yellow and tan Eurocopter AS350 B2 is not an uncommon sight, frequently seen surveying the hills and valleys that make up the SCV.

LASD’s helicopters provide a unique vantage point for deputies on the ground that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

“When we’re up in the air, we see the big picture,” Zager said. “When you’re down on the street, you’re limited by trees, by shrubbery and by walls.”

It’s up to teams like Trejo and Zager to essentially draw a picture for the deputies on the ground, they said.

“Our ability to guide them by painting a picture with our words really gives them an advantage. (Ground units) are dealing with fences and barriers and backyards,” Trejo said. “They can’t see somebody that may be on the other side of the fence, potentially with a gun or some other weapon, waiting to harm them.”

While the Aero Bureau’s bird’s-eye view might place it above the immediate danger deputies on the ground face, LASD’s aerial strategy still presents challenges for pilots, as well as for the tactical flight deputy.

“There can be some very difficult flying conditions,” Zager said, adding the dark, mountainous terrain surrounding the SCV is also among the most congested airspace in the country.

Trejo, whose job is to keep in contact with a number of different personnel, including dispatch, ground units and air traffic control, faces her own set of unique challenges. “Going around in circles, it’s easy to get disoriented, especially at night,” she said, “and listening to six different radios requires you to step it up and key in on who’s talking.”

However, knowing that their information can make the difference for her teammates on the ground makes it all worthwhile for Trejo.

“I always looked up to the guys and gals in Aero Bureau when I worked on patrol,” Trejo said. “When Aero would pass overhead, (I) always got this sense of calmness, so when things were chaotic and you had somebody running or anything that was high stress, once Aero came overhead, I knew that they would guide me, and I always admired that.”

Sgt. Morrie Zager and Deputy Misty Trejo pose for a photo in front of Air 29, a Eurocopter AS350 B2s near Lancaster, Calif. Austin Dave/The Signal

This post was last modified on June 12, 2018, 7:55 pm

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