Eyes in the sky

Henrico Citizens Police Academy Alumni group members visited the Metro Aviation Hangar at Richmond International Airport recently to get a look inside the unit's operations. (Patty Kruszewski/Henrico Citizen)
Members of the Henrico Citizens Police Academy Alumni (pictured) got a rare peek at the “high” side of law enforcement recently, with a trip to the Metro Aviation Hangar adjacent to Richmond International Airport.

About 25 academy alumni gathered at the hangar July 11 to hear Officer Shaun McCarthy describe a typical day aloft - and some not so typical – in a Cessna owned by the Metro Aviation Unit. Accompanying McCarthy was fellow pilot Doug Houston, an officer from Chesterfield County.

A partnership of the Henrico, Chesterfield and Richmond law enforcement agencies, the unit provides a unique perspective from above that facilitates everything from traffic control involving large crowds (such as Richmond Raceway events, or the recent Independence Day celebration at Meadow Farm) to accident scenes, disaster damage, and firefighting.

Three FAA-licensed pilots from each jurisdiction comprise the unit, and jurisdictions share operational costs equally. Together they patrol more than 745 square miles of territory, an area that includes an estimated 900,000 citizens.

The alumni – all of whom have completed a session of Henrico's Citizens Police Academy – heard McCarthy describe a variety of assignments that included everything from searching for missing Alzheimer’s patients to, on rare occasions, helping Community Maintenance officials enforce codes (by taking aerial photos of junk piled in a back yard).

Last year the unit answered some 818 calls for service – up from 750 in 2015. When emergency calls come in while the unit is on the ground, the police planes – always ready to take off on short notice – can be given priority over much bigger jets waiting to leave the airport. "They've actually held up the governor for us," said McCarthy.

One of the emergencies in which the airborne unit can be particularly helpful is in the case of hidden fires in wooded areas. The smoke can be seen and smelled by firefighters and citizens, but the flames themselves may be obscured by the forest canopy – until officers fly over and pinpoint the source.

McCarthy told the group that the unit also frequently transports prisoners to or from other states. Trips to Louisville, in particular, have become routine "because there's a huge drug rehab there."

"The only advantage of [Louisville] is White Castle," he added with a grin, referring to the well-loved burger chain.

When asked how prisoners are restrained in flight, McCarthy mentioned a system of multiple restraints -- but noted that they often aren't necessary.

Henrico Police Officer Shaun McCarthy demonstrates feature’s of the unit’s planes. (Patty Kruszewski/Henrico Citizen)

"You gotta understand," he said. "Most of the people here have never flown in a plane in their life." Assuming a nervous crouch with his hands clasped between his knees, he demonstrated the trembling posture of some first-time fliers he has accompanied.

Among the duties pilots or their partners perform at night is surveillance of crime scenes, or assisting officers on foot or in vehicles who are pursuing a suspect. The unit uses video cameras that record the action on the ground for use in court, and an infrared device that can detect suspects who are difficult to see from the ground. Speedy suspects who might be able to outrun foot patrol officers find it much more difficult to outrun or outlast an airplane, McCarthy said -- although he cited one instance in which police lost the suspect due to strong headwinds.

Easily the most popular part of McCarthy's presentation was a sampling of aerial videos from some actual captures, in which the unit was able to help ground forces nab fleeing suspects.

In one such film, police on the ground and in air were pursuing an intoxicated driver, who ended up driving off the road and crashing into a stand of trees. (He survived, noted McCarthy.) In another clip, one of three carjacking suspects was caught as he tried to climb a barrier.

"He got hung up on the fence," said McCarthy unsympathetically.

A longer, more suspenseful clip depicted a robber in a car weaving and slipping along snowy roads as he evaded Chesterfield County police officers, despite his tires shredding and falling off in chunks, only to be captured when he tried to drive through woods – and landed in a creek. An especially dramatic clip showed a dog from the K-9 unit taking down a "Craigslist robbery" suspect as undercover officers followed.

"This is better than TV!" exclaimed one alumni viewing the videos, as others nodded in assent.

Following the program, alumni went outside for an up-close look at one of the unit's three Cessnas and its features. Members of a recent Citizens Academy class posed for pictures with the plane, teasing members of other classes that they had topped the group in program attendance.

Devin Smorto, volunteer coordinator for Henrico County Police, noted that both the Citizens Police Academy and the Senior Citizens Police Academy are taking applications for fall. As with all academies, participants will learn about crime-fighting technology, crime prevention and trends, and will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on training activities as well as see live demonstrations and hear from guest speakers.

Upcoming sessions of the Citizens Police Academy and Senior Citizens Police Academy are scheduled to begin in early September. There is no charge to attend. For information and an application, call 501-4838 or visit http://henrico.us/services/citizenssenior-and-youth-police-academies.

The next meeting of the HCPAA alumni group – a members’-only event – will take place Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Henrico Training Center on Parham Road. The featured speaker will be Sgt. Kenneth Ragland (retired), the executive director of the Henrico Police Athletic League (PAL).
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Rock on!

The painted rocks craze is thriving in Henrico, as a walk around the grounds of local libraries and parks will demonstrate. This rock was spotted near Libbie Mill Library, and there's a slideshow of many more uniquely-painted stones on the RVA Rocks Facebook page (https://facebook.com/groups/RVARocks/).

Painting and hiding rocks is a family activity appropriate for all ages, and parents especially like the way it fosters creativity and gets kids outdoors. > Read more.

Goochland man arrested at RIC with gun

A Goochland County man was arrested at Richmond International Airport July 19 after Transportation Security Administration officers found a loaded semi-automatic handgun in the traveler’s carry-on bag.

A TSA officer detected the 9 mm caliber handgun inside the man’s carry-on bag as it entered the security checkpoint X-ray machine. The handgun was loaded with 12 bullets. > Read more.

Kansas man struck, killed while crossing West Broad Street

A 54-year-old Kansas man was struck and killed by a car while attempting to cross West Broad Street near Bethlehem Road in the Near West End at about 10:30 p.m., July 19.

Julius A. McBride of Overland Park, Kansas, was struck by a car traveling east on West Broad Street. > Read more.

Henrico Police warn citizens to ‘Take it, Lock it or Lose it’

Eastern parts of Henrico County have witnessed a recent increase in larceny from automobiles, so Henrico Police officials are spreading the word to encourage citizens to lock their vehicles.

Police are handing out and posting fliers and putting message boards in neighborhoods to educate residents.

There usually is a rise of larceny from automobiles during Christmas, spring and summer break, said Henrico Police Officer James Bupp. > Read more.

Glover to be inducted posthumously into Babe Ruth Hall of Fame

Late Brookland District Supervisor Dick Glover will be inducted into the Babe Ruth Southeast Region Hall of Fame during a ceremony Aug. 14 at RF&P Park at approximately 6:30 p.m., prior to a 14-and-under Babe Ruth World Series game. The Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association, which is hosting the World Series, made the announcement July 18. > Read more.

Henrico Business Bulletin Board

July 2017

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West Broad Village’s Rock & Roll Summer outdoor concert series continues at “The Pad,” adjacent to Aloft Hotel at 3939 Duckling Dr., from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Even Better Than the Real Thing, a U2 tribute band, will perform. The concert is free and open to the public. Several parking decks feature free parking. The series continues every other Friday through August. For details, visit http://www.shopwestbroadvillage.com or www.facebook.com/WestBroadVillageShopping. Full text

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