Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department's two helicopters flew on more calls and helped make more arrests last year than in 2015. You’re more likely to see one hovering overhead these days, but CMPD says that may not mean there's an incident.
CMPD's two Bell helicopter units are based at Charlotte Douglas airport. In 2016, they responded to more than 2,200 calls - chasing suspects, watching crowds or looking for missing persons. They directly assisted in 210 arrests, up from 118 the year before.
People worry when they see a police helicopter, said Coty Brown, one of CMPD's six pilots. (The unit also has a sergeant and a mechanic.)
"We tend to get a lot of phone calls, a lot of tweets, a lot of Facebook messages asking what it is that the aviation unit's doing, why the helicopter's over my house, what's it doing in my neighborhood,” Brown said. “It's a lot of doom and gloom that seems to be coming from the neighborhood, from the community, from the citizenry and oftentimes that's not the case.”
Sometimes the helicopters are on routine patrol, just like officers in cars. The idea is to be visible in neighborhoods, especially those where there's been an increase in crime. Brown says it's a good deterrent.
“While we're in those areas, crime oftentimes goes down to zero. A 100 percent reduction is what we've seen sometimes. And that reduction can stay in place for as long as two weeks after we leave those areas,” Brown said at CMPD’s weekly media briefing Tuesday in its aviation hangar at Charlotte Douglas airport
He said the two helicopters also work with other city departments.
“You may see us flying a light rail line, a power line right of way or a water right of way,” Brown said. “We assist Charlotte Water, CDOT, Planning, CRVA ... you name it, if they're a city asset, they've got access to us.”
Last year, helicopters helped find 113 missing persons and 58 stolen cars, also up from 2015.