SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — They fly high, tracking drivers who fly down highways, but the California Highway Patrol air operations unit is keeping an eye on more than just speeding cars.
The CHP air patrol captured former Sacramento Kings rookie of the year Tyreke Evans flying through traffic on Interstate 80 in Sacramento County.
Capt. Matt Causie was behind the controls of the CHP Cessna aircraft that day.
“You’ll see the video of Tyreke and it’s very easy to see that speed differential..the errant driving just stands out,” he said.
Speeds would reach 130 mph and Causie would direct ground units to move in.
Evans was cited for his travelling violation and would later apologize for his dangerous driving.
The chase is a spotlight example of what you might think is the primary job of CHP air patrol. After all, we’ve all seen the signs as we drive down the interstate—“Speed Enforced By Aircraft.”
But that’s not the case as much nowadays. The CHP says speed enforcement has gone from about 80 percent of their workload from the air to roughly 20 percent.
“We fly the freeways looking for those violations that would cause crashes—the unsafe lane change, the high speed, the following too close,” he said.
But these days, law enforcement air patrol flies over hostage or standoff situations or any crime scene with a suspect at large more often than ever before.
From high above, the extra eyes can save lives.
“In a standoff situation we things that maybe the ground units don’t see, especially early on when we’re setting the perimeter,” he said. “We can see the roof, we can see the backyard, we can direct units to the right yard.”
Pilots can also direct units to stay out of each other’s way should gunfire break out.
“We can watch for crossfire situations,” he said. “If two officers don’t see each other and they’re lined up opposite, we make sure they know where each other are, and they’re not going to get into a situation like that.”
When a situation get chaotic on the ground, air patrol can also set the right tone.
“We can speak a little calmer, we can speak with some authority and hopefully calm the situation a little bit,” he said.
In 2014, air patrol in the Sacramento region responded to more than 1,800 calls for backup to a possible crime scene and help guide officers to make more than 600 arrests.
Flight crews also take hundreds of pictures from the air to use for tactical purposes or use later in a criminal investigation.
It can be a dangerous assignment.
“We have been shot at from the ground,” he said, “but it’s not the same as being on the ground. When somebody points a weapon and shoots at me I kind of have a pretty good idea that they’re gonna miss.”
The speed of the aircraft and the distance from the ground give pilots that confidence.
The planes can also stay airborne longer than helicopters, cutting the cost of flying.