Police chases limited on ground, but not in the air

Since the state legislature still hasn’t much improved the police pursuit law, local law enforcement is looking for all the help it can get.

The Washington State Patrol can help.

WSP has an Aviation Section in its Special Operations Division that operates out of a renovated commercial hanger at the Olympia Airport. Six aircraft are kept in a high-security facility.

There are five troopers who are pilots. They fly five Cessnas and one all-weather King Air 200. WSP Aviation has five additional Reserve Tactical Flight officers deployed around the state.

The officers in the air use Forward Looking Infrared cameras and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment called Augmented Reality Systems to obtain tracking history and speed readings, which they can then relay to officers on the ground.

The aircraft also are used in Homeland Security cases, providing surveillance during narcotics operations, along with search and rescue cases.

“Our Aviation Section saves lives,” WSP chief John R. Batiste said. “They help us to both catch criminals and keep the public safe on our highways.”

The aircraft don’t seem to get much action in Kitsap County, but it did help with a case April 29.

A WSP news release says a sergeant spotted a Ford Fusion speeding on Highway 3 — close to 100 miles per hour in a 45 mph construction zone. The trooper attempted to stop the car, but the vehicle sped off. The sergeant was unable to give chase because of current state law.

However, Smokey 3, one of the Cessnas, followed overhead for some 22 minutes and many miles. It kept in touch with ground officers, letting them know where the car was going. On the flight their records show the route taken by the suspect and speeds (at times over 125 mph) that can be used as evidence in court.

On the plane they saw the car park in a church lot and the suspect hiding in nearby woods. The suspect, a 35-year-old Bremerton woman, was surprised about being caught as she was well aware of the limiting police chase laws—put in place due to the dangers of high-speed roadway chases.

“This is another situation where our people just do not give up,” Batiste said. “Those planes and their pilots and support staff are all force multipliers. Whether it is assisting ground units in capturing dangerous drivers like this one and many others involved in criminal activity, providing critical overhead photography during natural disasters, or transporting state personnel to impacted areas after a major event, the hundreds of flight hours put in each year make a huge difference on our streets and in our communities.”

State Patrol aircraft in recent times. WSP courtesy photos