Sir Robert Peel, considered by most to be the founder of the first organized police department was once quoted as saying "The Police are the public and public are the police; The police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interest of community welfare and existence."
Every law enforcement officer understands that cooperation from the public is vital when it comes to solving crimes, catching the perpetrator, and suppressing crime.
When it comes to police helicopters one of the most vital pieces of equipment on board is the public address system (P.A.). Kevin Means of the San Diego Police Air Support Unit, a recognized expert in FLIR operations, goes so far as to call the P.A. the "day time FLIR." That is how successful the P.A. is in locating wanted suspects, missing kids, and missing elderly subjects.
It makes sense to go a step further and disseminate current information to the public, when the police helicopter is going to be spending any significant amount of time working a call in your neighborhood. After all, the police helicopter is already disseminating the information directly to the public in the form of those P.A. announcements.
The Sacramento Police Department is leading the way (at least in the U.S.) in what is sure to be a new trend in airborne law enforcement. That is, publishing current information on it's website anytime the Sacramento Police Helicopter is orbiting a call for any significant amount of time. Citizens can go to the Sacramento Police Department's website and click on the "Helicopter Activity" bar on the left side of the page. Citizens will generally get the type of call is being worked, along with descriptions of fleeing suspects or missing kids, etc.
One might wander why this is necessary if the helicopter is already announcing the information over the P.A. system. Well on many police helicopters the speaker is directed down and out of the co-pilot's or observer's side of the helicopter toward the center of the orbit or search area. Consequently people on the outside of the orbit often cannot understand what is being broadcast. The result is calls flooding into the communications center from citizens complaining that they can't understand what is being said, and wanting to know what is going on in their neighborhood.
Publishing this information online is smart, keeps the public informed, and overall enhances the effectiveness of the police on the ground and in the air.
I have already heard that our own agency is working on a similar solution, but I do not have the details or a time frame as of yet.
More and more police agencies today are using Twitter and Facebook to update the public on current police activity to include traffic accidents etc. I predict it is only a matter of time before the vast majority of police agencies with an air support unit follow suit.
In addition to keeping the public informed and helping to find fleeing suspects etc., there is one more huge benefit to this. Though most citizens support their local police aviation unit, there are those who view them as nothing more than noisy and costly good old boy flying clubs. While we won't convert everyone, letting the public see in real time the types of calls the aviation unit is assisting, will most likely have a net positive result.