AStar B3, 3 Bell 206Ls, Cessna 210 and 206 form Miami-Dade Police fleet

Largest local LE agency in southeastern US protects 2.4 million residents-and 10 million visitors a year.


Miami-Dade Police Dept Head of Specialized Patrol & Events Section Capt Michael Cundle (L) and Aviation Unit Head Lt Jesus Ramirez.

Beer feels privileged to have the position: "It's the best job in the world-flying and police work." Once an officer is assigned to the unit, Turpin becomes responsible for planning and managing their training.

"A new officer with the unit will be assigned to one of our CFIs to finish up any necessary ratings they need inhouse," he says. Once the required ratings are completed and Turpin and his instructors feel the pilot is ready, the new officer will be sent to type-specific qualification training at manufacturers' schools both Bell and Eurocopter during the transition period.

After formal initial training, the pilot will gain additional PIC time before being considered fully operational and released by the unit's CFIs. Operational officer/pilots attend recurrent training in alternating years, as well as ongoing inhouse recurrent training and special mission training, like swimmer/diver deployment, sniper work and Special Response Team (SRT) operations.

Pilots assigned to the Aviation Unit are qualified on both helicopter types and the fixed-wing Cessnas. All sworn personnel in the unit also maintain their full law enforcement qualifications and attend ongoing recurrent training in their specialties.

For their efforts, the pilots have a rewarding compensation package and a good work life. Three shifts, the first beginning at 0600, provide air assets to the department around the clock. Officer/pilots are scheduled to work four 10-hr shifts per week.

These are bid on a department seniority basis, but Hernandez notes, "We work together to ensure a good schedule for everybody." Considering the "junior" pilot has about 13 years with the department, this type of teamwork pays dividends.

Early helicopter operations used a Bell 47, shown here flying over the sawgrass marshland that covers the Everglades in the western part of the county.

The primary duty of the officer/pilots is to fly the aircraft on police missions-most other support and administration work falls to the 2 sergeants. "Experienced pilots know where to look for problems," says Ramirez, adding, "They are paid as supervisors and are given the freedom to make decisions about where to focus their efforts on routine patrol."

Brendan Gill, an officer/pilot assigned to TMB, draws insight from his time on the street and with the Special Response Team to help understand what his colleagues on ground patrol need. The flying accomplished at MDPD is 25% planned missions or intelligence-driven patrol.

The remaining flight time is routine patrol or callout for assistance to road officers. Two aircraft are on duty at all times, with approximately 2 hrs per shift allotted to routine patrol-flight time during a shift will increase if called out to support other operations, such as checking roof tops during in-progress crimes, or when assisting with establishing perimeters around a crime scene.

Pay and benefits

Compensation for officer/pilots includes overrides for the pilot position, plus supervisory overrides and night-time differential when duty starts after 1400. Combined, this results in a pay range of $80,000-110,000 per year, plus vacation, benefits and a take-home vehicle.

Since supervisory positions in the Air Unit are limited, a team member would generally have to accept a promotion in another section of the agency in order to be promoted. Consequently, advancement to the next rank is virtually nonexistent for officer/pilots and sergeant/pilots.

Ramirez echoes, "Whatever rank you join the unit in, you'll stay in." But, as Turpin says, everybody here loves to fly, so no one will risk leaving their flying assignment to promote to a higher rank.

Fleet acquisition

Acquisition of the unit's AStars was a 3-year project led by the former unit commander, Lt Cliff Nelson, and Aircraft Technician Supervisor John Murman. "The unit wanted an aircraft that could do everything we needed," recalls Turpin.

"Nelson and Murman did an incredible amount of work creating that specification." In addition to considering refurbishment of the LongRangers they already owned, MDPD contemplated new products from AgustaWestland, Bell and Eurocopter.

"Eurocopter came in with very competitive pricing," says Turpin. "They wanted to be in the law enforcement market." The AStars will allow the unit to expand its capability greatly. Since much of Miami-Dade County is surrounded by water, pop-out emergency floats were a must.

The aircraft are also equipped with Submersible Systems' HEEDS emergency breathing equipment in case of ditching, and emergency exit lighting. Wirestrike kits are installed and high-energy-attenuating seats provide crashworthiness.

A modern panel includes Garmin GNS530/WAAS navigation and aviation communications, secondary Bendix/King nav/comms, a Garmin GTX327 transponder with traffic information and a Honeywell radar altimeter.

A full suite of law enforcement electronics is also installed, including an L3 Wescam 12TS200 camera and FLIR system with laser designator and downlink capability, an Avalex moving map system, Aerocomputers UtiliChart LE5000, LoJack vehicle recovery system, M/A-COM, Wulfsberg Electronics police radios and ITT night vision goggles.

This 1948 Temco GC1B Swift was an early MDPD surveillance platform.

Other LE equipment installed on the AStar is capability for Tyler special ops platforms, a fast-rope rappelling system, folding rear seats, an SX16 Nightsun with Universal Searchlight SLASS synchronization system, and a Power-Sonic public address system.

MDPD's 3 Bell 206L4s were all acquired in 1994 after Hurricane Andrew destroyed half of the aircraft the agency was flying. They have all accumulated 10,000 hours or more since joining the department and remain reliable police assets.

Two of the LongRangers are equipped with FLIR 2000 equipment and LoJack vehicle recovery systems. All of them have SX16 Nightsuns, Ericsson police radios and dual litter carrying capability.

Avionics includes Bendix/King nav/comms, GPS and radar altimeters, plus Ryan TCAD. The 2 Cessnas are used for surveillance, officer transport and antivenin missions. The P210 is a pressurized Riley Rocket conversion, well suited to the high-speed transport of urgently needed medicine for snake, spider and scorpion bites stored at the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Antivenin Bank in Miami.


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