Rest easy, neighborhoods: Sheriff Department helicopter helps catch crooks
Whirring of helicopter blades overhead in this area aren’t a figment of your imagination. It’s Guardian One, the King County Sheriff Department’s patrol chopper.
Sgt. Sydney Jackson, who supervises the county’s air support and search and rescue units, said Guardian One flies six days a week. The day shift works 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the night shift is 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
“We don’t have specific flight times or patrol areas. However, our Precinct 3 area, which includes Maple Valley, is the busiest for patrol assists,” Jackson said. “Not all helicopter noise or activity is associated with us, but we are typically responsible for most of it, especially at night.”
Maple Valley Police get inquiries each month from citizens wondering why they’re hearing helicopters overhead at night, chief Michelle Bennett said.
“I probably get two or three queries a month,” Bennett said. “I tell people if the helicopter is on a call in the city and what type of call, or if they’re engaging in training and aren’t on a call. Sometimes it isn’t our helicopter, and sometimes they just happen to be in the area and provide backup on stops or calls, just as a patrol car would.”
A recent example of Guardian One flying over Maple Valley and assisting involved the search for a robbery suspect in the Katesridge neighborhood in mid-February. A deputy sent an e-mail to a member of the Katesridge homeowners association, who had asked for an accurate account of the event, explaining in detail what happened and what role the chopper played in the search.
“Officers were dispatched to the 25300 block of 232nd Avenue Southeast for a report of a possible in-progress burglary,” the deputy said. “According to dispatch, a neighbor witnessed a suspect knock on the door of a nearby home and then was seen in the upstairs window.”
A Maple Valley officer was first to arrive on the scene, and as is required by the department’s standard operating procedures during in-progress felonies, the deputy waited for backup to arrive prior to searching the house. Within a few minutes, two additional officers arrived, and the three searched for the suspect but found the home empty, with drawers in the master bedroom opened and jewelry scattered on the floor.
After the search, the officers set up a perimeter to search for the burglar, and by this time (about 15 to 20 minutes after the initial call to police), the county helicopter had arrived.
Guardian One conducted an aerial search for the suspect,” the deputy said in an e-mail. “(A K9 unit) arrived and conducted a search … through adjoining back yards. The track and subsequent area checks of neighboring properties were unsuccessful. During the course of this call, five additional deputies” assisted in the search.
This kind of search, which lasted more than an hour in this case, can cause quite a disturbance, as Jackson explained.
“If the helicopter is orbiting over a particular area for a significant amount of time or has the spotlight down, we are assisting patrol on a call and most likely looking for a suspect,” Jackson said. “We fly at about 500 feet above the ground, which gives us the best vantage point in order to do police work from the air, but also contributes to the noise factor.”
The Sheriff Department has two marked law enforcement patrol helicopters. One is a hoist-equipped Huey for search and rescue operations, as well as a training helicopter.
Bennett said that since most of the helicopter noise people may hear at night in Maple Valley is created by Guardian One, they shouldn’t worry. “A helicopter is just one of the tools that helps to provide enhanced service and quality policing for the citizens,” the chief said
Jackson also advised that if anyone is curious about what’s going on if they do hear a chopper over their neighborhood, it’s best to call the air support unit at (206) 296-2740.
“People should stay inside their homes when the helicopter is orbiting overhead,” Jackson said. “We are usually looking for a suspect, and typically there is a K-9 out, as well. We don’t want citizens to be confused with the suspect, and it makes it more difficult for our officers in the helicopter to figure out who’s who out there.”
Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and email@example.com