Are you a reserve officer getting tired of day-to-day street duties? Do you happen to have a pilot’s license and an extra aircraft in your garage? You might have a higher calling and not even know it. In 1935, the aero unit was formed to handle aerial support missions in San Diego and Imperial Counties. In 1971, a new division was formed called ASTREA — Aerial Support To Regional Enforcement Agencies. Their mission was to provide enhanced public and officer safety by providing effective law enforcement, search and rescue, fire suppression and emergency service air support to public safety agencies throughout San Diego County.
In its infancy, most of ASTREA’s support was through low altitude helicopter patrol assistance. It wasn’t uncommon to see them flying in circles acting as a beaming beacon of light to help keep track of the chaos on the dark streets below. It was always a relief when they’d show up, not only with their bright light, but early forms of IR and thermal imaging technology to help find hiding suspects or lost souls.
As time progressed a new need was found for longer distance transportation support — serving units or obligations having larger areas of patrol and transportation assignments. About 10 years ago, a division of ASTREA was formed, which included reserve officers and fixed wing aircraft. Currently there are about six members, all with pilot’s licenses and planes. A reserve lieutenant heads them, and each reserve officer has either a commercial pilot’s license or a private license.
They’re equipped with fixed wing aircraft, all varieties of Cessna models. For long distance transportation they use Beech Bonanzas or Piper Twin-Mohaves. The larger planes can handle six to seven passengers, while the smaller ones carry a pilot and one observer. The group is comprised of Level 1, 2 and 3 reserve officers, and a couple of citizen volunteers.
As with all flying assignments, it comes with its risks. This comes to mind when you visit the California Peace Officers Memorial in Sacramento, Calif. You will note Frederick Chicago Porter listed as a Santa Monica Police “Special Officer” (now called reserve officers). Officer Porter and Sergeant Rolland Morton were killed in an aircraft accident while en route to Long Beach to offer assistance to victims of an earthquake. Their end of watch was Friday, March 10, 1933.
If you’re a reserve officer and have a pilot’s license, check with your local agency and see if there’s an aero unit you might join. If they don’t have an air-support unit, but you own your own plane, maybe now is the time to offer your services. Often, cities will offer to pay fuel and basic maintenance costs for that “helping hand” your light plane might deliver. This is a great way to enjoy both of your hobbies, while supporting your local community.
By Doug Sherman
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