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Thursday, July 1, 2010

LE Aviators Gather in Tucson   

By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large

In mid-July, aviators from police, sheriff and federal law enforcement agencies will descend upon Tucson, Ariz. for the Airborne Law Enforcement Association’s 40th Annual Conference & Exposition. The event, which will run from July 15–17, will be preceded by the organization’s pre-conference professional development courses July 12–14.

Enstrom Helicopter will be at the show. Ernie Stephens Photo

With headquarters in Frederick, Md., ALEA is an organization that sees to the professional and political needs of its 3,700 worldwide airborne law enforcement community members. The yearly event draws attendees from North America, mostly, but also from places like Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom and Mexico.

This year, the venue will be the Tucson Convention Center, where event planners will hold workshops, seminars and classes led by some of the top professionals in aviation. This year, pre-conference courses, which involve a small fee, will cover subjects such as advanced thermal imaging tactics, refresher training for flight instructors, safety management systems and aviation unit management.

Free workshops and classroom training are held during the conference, and include a wide variety of hour-long classes on subjects such as airborne use of force, unit start-up, and operational risk management.

The centerpiece of the ALEA gathering will be the exhibit hall, where attendees will find 100,000 square feet of floor space crammed with displays that relate directly to serving the public from the air. Special-purpose aircraft—helicopters, mostly, but also light airplanes—will be on display, along with rescue hoists, night vision equipment, search lights, and flight apparel. Members will be able to peruse the hall throughout the day from July 15–17, and visit with representatives from the companies that manufacture, distribute and use the products that draw their interest.

“The exhibit hall is almost completely full now,” reported Steve Ingley, ALEA’s executive director, in early June. “We have 140 vendors [displaying products] and a number of display aircraft coming in.” Enstrom Helicopter of Menominee, Mich. is a regular exhibitor at ALEA, but is especially excited about showing a police-equipped 480B. It belongs to a Los Angeles-area task force, and will be flown in by members of the Pasadena Police Dept.

“This show is about getting in front of people who have had their [aviation] budget cut,” said Tracy Biegler, director of sales and marketing for Enstrom.

“With 40-something closures of aviation units, there’s no need for expensive aircraft when our aircraft can do the same job for $300,000 to $500,000 less than the competition.”

Jerry Davis, director of marketing for Avalex, a Pensacola, Fla.-based manufacturer of airborne moving map and data systems, is eager to show new products to potential users.

The Tucson Convention Center in Tucson, Ariz. will be host to the Airborne
Law Enforcement Association’s 40th Annual Conference & Exposition
July 15–17. Ernie Stephens Photo

“We’re bringing our new model 8200 DVR family of digital recorders and smart displays to ALEA,” he explained. “The smart display will appeal to people with space issues, because the processor is built right into the display. We’ll also have an upgraded mapping system to show.”

Robinson Helicopter is also a regular exhibitor at ALEA, with at least one aircraft loaded with police mission equipment on display. This year will be no exception. “We’re taking a factory demonstrator R44 law enforcement model this year,” said Kurt Robinson, vice president of Torrence, Calif.-based Robinson. “It will actually be available for sale.”

DART Helicopter Services of Oceanside, Calif., a leading provider of STC’d aftermarket helicopter upgrades and accessories, will be displaying a number of popular police helicopter items. Included will be a kit that converts standard cabin doors to sliding doors, Bear Paw skid shoe attachments for the Eurocopter AS350 line, and seatbelt upgrades.

AeroComputers, based in Oxnard, Calif., will be on hand to show a number of airborne moving map systems and components. Jon Marshal, marketing executive, is planning to bring some next-generation items along, too.

“We’re going to display our full line of tactical mission management equipment for airborne law enforcement,” said Marshal. “We especially want to show our UC-5100 digital mapping system and our new series of high definition displays.”

Airborne police equipment exhibits and educational seminars are not the only part of ALEA that its members look forward to experiencing. Each year, there is one very special area at the convention center—well, outside of it, actually—that all ALEA members and exhibitors pay particularly close attention to. It is also the only area that caters to one’s sense of smell and taste. It’s a 6 x 30-foot barbecue pit.

The pit is the epicenter of an annual event affectionately—and officially—known as the “Pig Pickin’.” Sponsored by Avalex, Cobham and FLIR—three technology companies that specialize in airborne law enforcement equipment—a small army of professional grill masters spend two days slow-roasting hundreds of pounds of pork and beef barbecue for a big family feed on the last evening of the conference. After the Pig Pickin’, FLIR will host its annual awards ceremony, where first, second and third place honors are presented to airborne law enforcement crews who used thermal imaging equipment to make significant apprehensions or contributions to public safety during the past 12 months, while capturing it on video.

If this year’s ceremony is anything like the previous ones, the crowd can expect to see exciting video footage that rivals anything seen in the movies.

Circus-like foot pursuits, demolition derby-style car chases, and edge-of-your-seat rescue missions are the norm, and highlight the search and tracking skills of the men and women who serve from above.

Unfortunately, a dark cloud may hang over attendance numbers in Tucson this year. The fallout from a controversial piece of legislation penned by Arizona lawmakers may effectively throw a length of yellow DO NOT CROSS tape around the event for some.

In April, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (Rep.) signed into law what has been described as the toughest illegal immigration legislation in the U.S. to date. The law allows peace officers to ask people who have been stopped for any sort of criminal or suspicious activity, to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or legal alien status. As a result, several major cities and counties have decided to officially boycott Arizona businesses, to include passing, or considering the passage of, regulations prohibiting its employees from traveling there on official business. And since several of those jurisdictions, including Los Angeles, the District of Columbia and Columbus, Ohio, normally allow its police aviators to attend ALEA, the possibility exists that members from those and other boycotting jurisdictions will not attend ALEA, either because of employer restrictions or personal opposition to the law.

ALEA holds its annual conference in a number of U.S. cities, and historically books its venues years on the advance to guarantee space and sizable discounts. Consequently, the organization was committed to the Tucson Convention Center long before the controversial law had even been proposed, let alone passed. ALEA did not wish comment on how the passage of the law might affect attendance at this year’s conference, nor how it could impact holding future events in Arizona.

To learn more about ALEA’s organization, the conference, or its professional development programs, go to www.alea.org or call 1-301-631-2406.

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