Public Service

San Diego PD Subdues Suspect from Airborne AStar, Wins FLIR Vision Award

By S.L. Fuller | August 1, 2017
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SDPD Helicopter Astar

Photo courtesy of San Diego Police Dept. Air Support Unit

The San Diego, California, Police Dept. flies four Airbus Helicopters AS350s. Last December, on Christmas Eve, one was called to provide support to two shootings, back-to-back. What transpired at the second scene was recorded on the aircraft’s FLIR camera and won first place at the 2017 FLIR Vision Awards during the Airborne Law Enforcement Assn.’s (ALEA) Expo in Reno, Nevada, last week. The awards honor recordings taken on airborne FLIR cameras, submitted by various law enforcement entities.

With an ever-shrinking ceiling, low fuel and no ground support, the AStar flew from one scene to another, with Pilot in Command Officer Elias Rodriguez, and Tactical Flight Officer Joseph Waggaman, on board. Upon arrival to the second scene, the FLIR footage showed two victims in the back yard of a residence, clearly wounded. As the helicopter took position, another figure came into view. A shooter with a long gun glowed in the footage as they both gave off heat with the forward-looking infrared camera senses. It became evident that the urgency and danger of the situation were increasing.


“Hey, Joe, since there are no deputies, do you want to [tell him] to drop his weapon?” Rodriguez suggested.

“Good idea, good idea,” Waggaman responded. “Let’s do it.”

Basic training is received at the Police Academy on how to use voice inflection in certain situations. But there is no specialized air support training that Waggaman could have taken to teach him how to subdue a suspect from an airborne helicopter. The San Diego Air Support Unit jokes that perhaps Waggaman’s training, enabling him to have an authoritative voice, came from being a father. Wherever the instinctive ability originated, Waggaman was able to do something unlike anything the department had seen before.

“Suspect on the hillside, put down your gun, now,” Waggaman commanded from the AStar. “Lie down, and give yourself up. You will not get away from the helicopter. We see you; we see you under the tree. You need to immediately put down your weapon, lie on the ground and give yourself up to law enforcement.”

After a few more commands, the suspect put down his gun, and Waggaman directed him to walk away from his weapon and lie down on his stomach.

“My partner is giving [the suspect] direction to drop the weapon,” Rodriguez relayed to the ground. “You guys are needed here, like, ASAP.”

FLIR Vision 2017 copy

Sergeant Craig Evans, Air Support Unit, San Diego Police Dept.

The air unit told R&WI that, although it was not shown FLIR’s video (the videos must not exceed a certain length for submission), it took ground support some 12 to 15 minutes to arrive at the scene and make an arrest. Until then, Waggaman and Rodriguez remained in control of the situation from the sky.

Rodriguez and Waggaman accepted the award at the FLIR dinner July 28 — the one year anniversary of the death of fellow San Diego police officer Jonathan “J.D.” De Guzman, who was shot while on duty. The two stepped on stage to receive a $1,000 donation to the recipients’ chosen charity. Proceeds went to San Diego Police Officers Assn. Widows & Orphans Fund.

Other FLIR Vision Awards recipients included California Highway Patrol Valley Division; Tulsa County, Oklahoma, Police Dept.; and the Edmonton Police Service from Alberta, Canada. The highway patrol won FLIR’s new award, the Hot Pursuit Award, as well as the second place award, with the same aircraft. Tulsa County won the third place award, and Edmonton won the Fang Award, which highlights K9 units.

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