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Posted: 06/02/04

New air patrol will become county's 'eyeballs in the sky'

by DENNIS A. SETTER
Observer Managing Editor
      Macomb County law enforcement has been given wings.
       A new Air Patrol Reserve Unit was announced last Thursday at the Romeo Airport by Sheriff Mark Hackel.
       "We have people that are on the water and we have ground support ... but haven't had an aerial perspective where people actually see things and help us out from the air," said Hackel. "That is a tremendous asset to us in the county from a law enforcement perspective."
       Commander of the new unit is Ray Township resident Matt Scarsella, owner of a single engine, two seat Aviat Aviation Huskey A-1B aircraft. Scarsella will lead a reserve unit, that when fully staffed, will consist of 20 pilots and about 25 aircrafts. Currently there are about five citizens deputized into the new unit and about a dozen more showing interest.
       The bylaws of the unit are set up so it's an ongoing training process for unit members, said Scarsella. He said the program is modeled after the Wings Proficiency Awards Program which is an FAA approved training program.
       Typically, pilots are required to undergo a biannual flight review. The Wings program is an ongoing process and "better suited to keep pilots current and active."
       "The board is top loaded with flight instructors," said Scarsella.
       Romeo State Airport will be the base for the operation. Reserve pilots will assist the Sheriff Department by keeping a lookout for problems on the ground when they are in the air, helping to locate missing persons, provide air support for situations on Lake St. Clair, keep an eye out for border crossing issues, among other things.
       "They are going to help us out by looking for individuals, possibly profiling different types of boats or the way people might be coming into the States through Canadian waters," said Hackel.
       Scarsella has already assisted the department when it was searching for the body of a boater recently on Lake St. Clair. He also became the eyes for the department during the recent flooding.
       "We are not going to be police officers," said Scarsella. "We are not going to carry guns. We are not going to arrest people. We are going to be confined to an aircraft so that when we are out doing our thing we can assist law enforcement on the ground. We are not going to actually be making off-airport landings, chasing down the bad guys. We're just going to be some eyeballs in the sky."
       Budget problems have prohibited the county from putting together its own air unit, said Hackel. The county was able to get some support from the city of Warren until it grounded its helicopter due to budget constraints.
       Other air support has come from the news media, and sometimes the Coast Guard.
       "I've been in numerous Fox 2, Channel 4, Channel 7 helicopters up in the air looking at things trying to get a perspective from there," said Hackel. "Once in a while we got ahold of the Coast Guard, but to get them up and running and get a response from them sometimes takes time."
       The only expense for the county will be about $2,000, which will be used to buy an aviation VHF radio and antenna for county dispatch so the department can be in contact with the pilots.
       Reserve pilots will pay for their own expenses when in the air, including fuel and insurance.
       Eventually, Hackel is hopeful that the county will be in the position to purchase a helicopter with Homeland Security funds and other funds. Still, he is not looking at the air unit as temporary.
       "I think we are going to keep this as long as we need to," said Hackel. "Even if I was able to get an aviations unit, meaning a helicopter, I would definitely want to use these people with that on reserve."
       Captain David A. Teske coordinates the Sheriff Department's reserve units. He said nothing much will change for him, except "I will be a little busier."
       "This is just another tool we can use," said Teske. "We have a marine division, the mounted division, we will have a bicycle unit that we are going to start up very soon, an aviation unit and a motorcycle unit."
       Teske said the county is in the process of developing bylaws for the bicycle reserve unit and hope to have it up and running by the end of June when the Orchard Trail is expected to open.
       "In between a couple of mile roads or north and south roads there is a lot of bike path in there and to be able to get to those people and patrol those remote locations is going to be a plus for us," said Teske.
       Anybody who is interested in joining a reserve unit should contact the Uniform Services Division at the Sheriff Department. Call (586) 307-9337.
      
      


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