All airborne law enforcement agencies operate towards ensuring public safety and compliance with laws through the use of specialized aircraft and crew. To fully realize the advantage of this service, it is imperative that it be done safely and efficiently. No doubt that the first time an aircraft was used for law enforcement ideas were explored, lessons were learned and practices began to develop. I’m also certain that a great many of the lessons learned came from unfortunate accidents—definitely the least preferred way of honing our profession.
With geographic and demographic variations spurring differences in mission profiles, aircraft models, and crew make ups, it would seem like a daunting task to make sense of all this variety and organize it into best practices for all aviation units to adopt. Well fear not, because it’s been done for you. Jim Di Giovanna, president of the Airborne Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission (ALEAC), was kind enough to explain to me the history, benefits, and results of more than seven years of collaborated efforts to develop a standard for airborne law enforcement, including a way for agencies to assess their own compliance.
Armed with 35 years of experience working for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department—17 of those as the Aero Bureau Commander—Di Giovanna was one of a group of highly experienced individuals tasked by the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) in 2002 to dissect the specialized functions of airborne law enforcement and create a set of standards useable by any agency, regardless of size or level of government. The task was completed in 2004, and by 2005 the ALEA officially adopted these standards as “best practices” for all agencies. Continuing their efforts, in 2009 the ALEAC announced the availability of a voluntary accreditation program designed to assess an airborne law enforcement unit’s compliance with the standards.
The standards are broken into five major sections: administration, operations, safety, training, and maintenance for both fixed and rotary wing operations, and all are based on the two highest priorities of an airborne law enforcement unit: “safety first” in all areas of operation, and provision of quality services. To be clear, the standards do not explain how to conduct each mission; rather, they provide a strong framework around which units can build their specific policy and procedures, being assured they will be in compliance with the most important aspects of safety and risk management.
The advent of the accreditation program provides the perfect opportunity for agencies to take stock of their operations. Di Giovanna explained the process, which requires an agency to first fill out a self-assessment packet and compare themselves with the standards. The agency has six months to submit its packet and show compliance, at which time an assessor will come to evaluate the operation.
Assessments should take an average of two days. Although voluntary, there is a fee involved in the assessment. Costs range from $5,000 for a small unit of up to four aircraft and one site, and can go as high as $9,500 for agencies with two or more sites and 15 or more aircraft. Ten percent of the fee must be paid up front when an agency receives its self-assessment packet. Di Giovanna made it clear that the program fully considers the impact on small units with limited budgets when trying to achieve compliance.
When asked about the high profile nature of law enforcement and the aversion to scrutiny, Di Giovanna explained the program is presented in a very non-threatening, non-compulsory way, and is completely advisory in nature. “It behooves your administrators to heed the guidance that’s been given to them. Unit commanders should look for the opportunity for someone to come in and tell them how they’re doing with an unbiased view,” he said.
If applying for full accreditation sounds interesting, American Eurocopter recently donated $10,000 in rebates to go to the first three agencies who successfully achieve it—$5,000 will go to the first, $3,000 to the second, and $2,000 to the third.
As Di Giovanna so eloquently put it: “Airborne law enforcement is a profession within a profession.” In furtherance of our profession, compliance with the standards will provide a foundation of safe operating practices and help enhance unit professionalism and effectiveness. Achieving agency accreditation may help gain financial incentives, such as lower insurance premiums or increased coverage, as well as stronger support from government officials and the community. Free information about the standards and accreditation can be found on the ALEA website: www.alea.org.
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