Ready for anything-Nassau County (NY) Police Dept

Long Island police department uses 3 Bell 407s to provide law enforcement, rescue and medevac services.

By Ken Solosky
ATP/Helo/CFI Chief Pilot, Newark Police Av Unit

NCPD Bell 407 returns to 8NY9 (NCPD Heliport, Bethpage NY) after a homeland security mission.

Lying directly east of New York City, Nassau County has a population of over 1.3 million and covers almost 300 square miles. Nassau is renowned for its beaches, restaurants, museums, parks, shopping malls and world-class golf.

In fact, the US Golf Open will be returning to Nassau County in 2009 at the famed Bethpage Black course. Nassau County is bordered by New York City and by Suffolk County, the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound.

The county's size, population density and proximity to the water mean that it places a high demand on emergency service providers. The Nassau County Police Dept (NCPD), with approximately 2600 sworn officers, provides most patrol services for the county.

Some villages within the county maintain their own patrol force-however, Nassau provides support services for the entire county, including emergency ambulance service, marine, SWAT, detectives and airborne law enforcement.

NCPD Aviation Unit and its 3 Bell 407s provide police and medevac services for Nassau County residents, visitors and tourists. The unit is located at 8NY9 (Nassau County Police Heliport, Bethpage NY) in one of the hangars of the former Grumman Corp's "Iron Works."

Today, NCPD Aviation Unit is the last active operator in an area of Long Island referred to as the Cradle of Aviation. (Only a few miles west, Charles Lindbergh lifted off on his solo transatlantic flight from Roosevelt Field, which is now a shopping mall.)

Bethpage is where Grumman built the legendary A6 Intruder, E2 Hawkeye and F14 Tomcat. Today the NCPD Aviation Unit remains as the last guardian of this once aviation-rich region.

Operations and aircrew

The unit and its 13 personnel are under the command of Deputy Inspector Steven Salz, who is also a fully designated pilot-in-command. Unit members consist of Chief Pilot Ralph Spinola, 5 line pilots, 4 New York State certified paramedic/EMT-CC technicians and 3 A&P mechanics.

All are sworn officers who have graduated from the NCPD Police Academy and been assigned to a patrol precinct. Most have several years of patrol and other specialized police experience before applying to be a pilot or tactical flight officer (TFO).

At a minimum, all pilot applicants must have a commercial rotorcraft certificate before being considered for the unit. A newly assigned police pilot can expect to fly around 500 hours under Spinola's watchful eye, learning the demands, missions and parameters of law enforcement flying before being designated as a police pilot-in-command.

(L-R) Chief Mechanic/Police Officer Stan Routh, Paramedic/TFO/Police Officer Jim Sarnataro and Chief Pilot/Police Officer Ralph Spinola with the unit's newest Bell 407.

Aircrews work a rotating schedule of 8-hour tours starting at either 0730 or 1520. Crews respond from home if airborne law enforcement services are required during off hours. Spinola estimates that each crew member can expect to come in around 10 times a year during the off hours.

While this system serves the Aviation Unit well, Spinola and his team are constantly investigating better ways to schedule the aircrews. Chief Pilot Ralph Spinola is a 21-year veteran of the NCPD and has spent a considerable portion of his career assigned to the Aviation Unit. "I was fortunate," he explains.

"There were several Aviation Unit retirements when I first got hired and since I came from a Part 135 and flight instructing background, I was able to make the transfer quicker than usual." Spinola is always mindful that, once designated as a pilot-in-command, there is no copilot to lean on for support.

He notes, "The police mission can be incredibly demanding-we operate in an active Class B airspace environment, and we often fly low and slow. Night-time offsite landings are common. Although the TFOs do an excellent job of CRM, they have their own responsibilities and tasks, especially in the medevac assignment."

It normally takes 18-24 months before a police pilot achieves pilot-in-command designation. In addition to inhouse training, all pilots attend the Bell Helicopter Customer Training Academy in Fort Worth TX for Bell 407 initial and annual recurrent training.

Nassau County Police Dept's pay scale is among the most competitive in the nation. Top pay after 8 years of service can be in the $90K range. Medical, dental and optical are all paid for by the county, and officers can retire after 20 years of service at half pay. The county also offers a voluntary deferred compensation (457) plan.

There are additional educational, night shift and assignment incentives. Police officers also enjoy strong vacation and sick time benefits. Competition to get on the department is stiff, with thousands of applicants for only perhaps 75-100 positions per year. Personnel are hired from a competitive civil service list and, if an applicant becomes a Nassau police officer, assignment to the Aviation Unit remains equally competitive.

Total complement remains steady at 13 and turnover is infrequent. Having a commercial helicopter certificate is no guarantee that a police officer will ever get a coveted slot in the Aviation Unit. Spinola notes that the unit has taken on 4 pilots in the past few year, and he expects almost no turnover in the near future.

Aviation Unit missions

Reflecting the size and population of the county, the Aviation Unit responds to a wide array of missions. Proximity to both the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound means that air/sea rescue assignments and searches are common during the very active boating season. Police-specific missions and medevacs make up the bulk of the other assignments.

The unit's mission has changed in recent years, notes Spinola. "Homeland security is still a very high priority," he says. "Our location near to New York City, along with Nassau County's own sensitive targets, places large demands on our unit."

Last year the NCPD Aviation Unit flew 620 homeland security missions-so far this year it has flown more than 420. JFK (John F Kennedy, New York NY) is located on the Nassau County border. NCPD Aviation Unit not only operates in this very busy airspace but must be prepared for an aircraft disaster.

Pictures on the walls of the Aviation Unit offices provide a grim reminder. They are photos of the crash site of Avianca Flight 52-a Boeing 707 enroute JFK from Bogotá, Colombia on Jan 25, 1990, which ran out of fuel and crashed in Cove Neck NY on the northern tip of Nassau County, killing 73 of the 149 passengers.



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