Sunday, September 30, 2007

Here's a big "Thank You!" to Fort Lauderdale P.D.'s Aviation Unit - It is long overdue!

Here's one of my recent posts from
(Infinity Publishing created for people who like to write)

From our favorite t.v. cop shows, and action flicks at the movies, most people do know that helicopters are routinely used by the various law enforcement agencies around the country. Heck, who could ever forget that dramatic low-speed pursuit with O.J. and the white Bronco. And, thanks to the many helicopters that were overhead, we all got to watch this drama unfold in real-time on our t.v. sets.

But, I bet most people don’t know that even before helicopters became the favorite high-priced toy of the police, some departments experimented and used single-engine fixed-wing aircraft for patrol and surveillance duty. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department, in Florida, was one of these. In fact, I believe Fort Lauderdale P.D. was one of the very first in Florida, if not the nation, to do this. Fort Lauderdale’s plane was a single-engine Cessna and “Aerial 1” was its radio call sign.

In the mid-1970s there was a dramatic increase in violent crime in Fort Lauderdale. One of the things the police department did to combat this was to create a special tactical unit, called the Tactical Impact Unit (T.I.U.). Thanks to a federal grant, this unit was equipped with some of the newest and most sophisticated equipment available (see my previous post under the “Guns” Forum which tells about the .22 cal. laser-sighted machine gun).

In the mid-1970s T.I.U. was involved in a couple of major surveillances. These surveillances, which lasted for many weeks, also involved the Department’s Aviation Unit (“Aerial 1”). In fact, without the assistance of this unit, and its dedicated pilots and observers who were all sworn F.L.P.D. officers, it is highly doubtful these surveillances would have succeeded, as they eventually did. T.I.U. received most of the glory and the accolades, but the Aviation Unit really deserved much of the credit.

For anyone interested in these events, they are described in detail in my book published by Infinity in August of 2006. If you like stories about true crime, guns and aviation themes, with lots of action, then I believe you’ll enjoy reading my book. My book is titled: Badge 149 – “Shots Fired!”

Sadly, Fort Lauderdale P.D. no longer has an Aviation Unit. Thanks to modern budget considerations, declining manpower, or what have you, F.L.P.D. did away with its Aviation Unit (which did eventually use helicopters), and now they rely solely on the Broward County Sheriff’s Department for aerial support. Fort Lauderdale’s Aviation Unit is just a fond memory for those of us who worked and served with its proud members. It is now just a piece of law enforcement and aviation history.

Here is a brief excerpt from my book’s Epilogue:

“On August 3, 1981, ‘Aerial 1’ crashed while on routine patrol over the southwest section of the City. Kenneth Petersen, one of the original members of our department’s Aviation Unit, and another officer pilot/observer, John Alexander, were both killed instantly.

Joe Gerwens, one of my sergeants from my old T.I.U. days became Chief of Police of Fort Lauderdale P.D. in 1987. Unfortunately, Joe also had to endure the unthinkable during his tenure as Chief and on May 25, 1989, tragedy again struck F.L.P.D. when ‘Aerial 1’ crashed during a return flight from the City of Tallahassee. Both the pilot, Officer Frank Mastrangelo Jr., and his passenger, Detective Norman Eddy, were killed.”

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If any readers of this post are ex-officers who worked in an Aviation Unit during the mid-1970s, I would love to hear back from you. Or, even if you were not in law enforcement yourself, if you know of a specific law enforcement agency that employed single-engine fixed-wing aircraft in the 1970s, I’d like to hear from you too.

1 comment:

Bill said...

I joined FLPD in 1976 and it was the best most progressive department in Florida. I to have retired and now working for the state. It is not until you leave the PD that you can fully understand how great a department we had and the quality of the people that you work with. Gary I always admired you as a person and as a police office.

I enjoyed your blog.

Bill Lumm