The Aviation Unit
In 2004 an agreement between the City of Savannah and Chatham County merged their respective Police Departments and became the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department (SCMPD). In 2005 under an agreement with the Chatham County Commission and with the authority of the Chatham County Manager and the Director of the Chatham County Mosquito Control, an operational use of the County owned helicopters along with the Chatham County Mosquito Control pilots was put in place whereas the helicopters along with the pilots will assist with Airborne Law Enforcement throughout the City of Savannah and County of Chatham. The SCMPD formed, for the first time in the region, a Law Enforcement Aviation Unit. The unit started out with one County Pilot, one helicopter (call sign: EAGLE1) and several SCMPD Officers who volunteered to become Tactical Flight Officers (TFO). By 2011 Chatham County had added two more helicopters to its fleet (EAGLE2 and EAGLE3) and a second Pilot. The SCMPD now has five fully trained Tactical Flight Officers.
The SCMPD Aviation Unit is a part-time unit which will respond to any request for aerial assistance from SCMPD, any of the seven municipalities, outside agencies such as Bryan County, Effingham County, Jasper (SC) County, Beaufort (SC) County, Chatham Emergency Management (CEMA) and any local Fire Department. The unit has also worked with providing Federal agencies such as the FBI, ATF, USCBP, Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service with airborne assets when requested. Routine patrol flights are conducted weekly with a focus on assisting street Officers, whether SCMPD or a Municipality, if needed. Homeland Security checks are conducted along the Georgia Ports and the Savannah International Airport properties.
The County has two full time Pilots while SCMPD has five Tactical Flight Officers, one Sergeant (unit commander) and four Officers.
All SCMPD TFO’s have successfully completed their Tactical Flight Officer certification and are required to maintain their proficiency on all surveillance equipment. All TFO’s have been trained in support of fire fighting using the “Bambi Bucket”. Several TFO’s have also been trained in water rescue. Each of the Pilot’s and the TFO’s are active members in the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) and attend annual training though the ALEA.
TFO’s are on a 4-week on-call rotation. Each TFO is on-call for one week at a time. During the TFO’s on-call week they are required to conduct (at least) one patrol flight and must be available for call-back if requested.
The Aviation Unit conducts a unit training day on the last Friday of each month.
Chatham County has in its fleet of aircraft two MD500E’s and one MD520N. The aircrafts are set-up to multi task, including Mosquito Control, Fire Fighting, Search & Rescue, along with Law Enforcement. The police surveillance equipment includes a 30million watt NightSun, a FLIR 8000 Infra-red camera, an AuroComputer GPS/Street Map, BMS Down-Link and a Loud Hailer (PA system). The surveillance equipment has been mounted to a “sled” and can be easily removed from one aircraft to another within minutes. Outside cargo racks can also be attached to assist in transporting SWAT personnel and can provide a platform for water rescue. Along with standard avionics the aircraft also are equipped with 800mhz police radios and each Pilot has a Apple iPAD to assist them with navigation. Under low-light or darkness, the Pilots fly under night vision goggles (NVG).
TFO’s are issued nomex flight suits, a helmet and are required to carry their Department issued sidearm. A call-out bag (stationed at the hanger) has a portable 800mhz radio, flashlight, night vision goggles, a kneeboard hand-held BMS down-link and handcuffs. Due to the amount of waterways within the County, Pilots and TFO’s commonly wear a personal floatation device (PFD).
The Commander of the SCMPD Aviation Unit is:
Detective/Corporal Wesley Johnson
E-mail Detective/Corporal Johnson
The Aviation Unit can be reached at: