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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Henrico Schools to host College and Career Night Nov. 1

Students of all ages are invited to investigate options for life after high school at Henrico County Public Schools’ 2017 College and Career Night. The annual countywide event offers a chance to talk with representatives of more than 100 universities, colleges and professional programs, as well as about 50 representatives of career options such as businesses and branches of the military.

College and Career Night will take place Wednesday, Nov. 1 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Henrico High School, 302 Azalea Ave. > Read more.

Business in brief

Henrico-based nonprofit Commonwealth Autism recently received the Standards for Excellence Institute’s Seal of Excellence for successfully completing its accreditation program. Commonwealth Autism voluntarily opened itself to analysis by a peer review team during the last 18 months that examined the organization’s compliance with the “Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector.” These standards cover areas such as: mission, strategy and evaluation; leadership – board, staff and volunteers; legal compliance and ethics; finance and operations; resource development; and public awareness, engagement and advocacy. Commonwealth Autism was one of six organizations in the Richmond region to be recognized and the first in the region to achieve full accreditation. In addition to this accreditation, Commonwealth Autism is recognized as an Accredited Charity with the Richmond Better Business Bureau and holds accreditation from the Code of Ethics for Behavioral Organizations (COEBO). > Read more.

Purify Infrared Sauna opens at GreenGate

Purify Infrared Sauna recently opened its second Henrico location at GreenGate Shopping Center in Short Pump.

Owner Mary Woodbridge opened her first Purify location on Patterson Avenue in July 2015. The new store is located at 301 Maltby Boulevard, Suite C, west of Short Pump Town Center. > Read more.

Henrico Master Gardener training program accepting applications through Oct. 27

The Henrico County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension is accepting applications for its next volunteer Master Gardener training program, which provides instruction in all aspects of horticulture.

Applications for the 2018 training program will be accepted through Friday, Oct. 27. Classes will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 16 through March 22. > Read more.

Henrico Schools to host Oct. 30 job fair

Henrico Schools will host a job fair Oct. 30.

The event, to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fairfield branch library, is designed to attract potential full-time and substitute registered nurses, instructional assistants, bus drivers and school nutrition workers. > Read more.

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October 2017

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Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will celebrate Rose Fest from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Rose Garden. Walk through winding paths of 1,800 roses and enjoy live entertainment and other activities. The Latin Ballet of Virginia will perform at 12:15 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. Rose Fest is included with Garden admission which is $13 for adults, $11 for seniors 55+, $10 for military (with ID) and $8 for children 3-12. For details, visit http://www.lewisginter.org. Full text

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