EXCLUSIVE: A Look Inside OPD Helicopter During Shooting Investigation

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WOWT 6 News took a ride with The Omaha Police Department’s Helicopter Able 1 to learn the benefits of having “eyes in the sky.” The ride started with OPD Pilot’s Matt Stewart and Jason Messerschmidt teaching WOWT 6 News Anchor/Reporter Joe Chiodo the basics, and then they got to work. They soon found themselves flying high above and active shooting investigation.

Within just one minute of being in the air, 911 dispatch informed the Pilots that Able 1’s assistance was needed in locating a suspicious party hiding in nearby trees. WOWT 6 News learned it is instances like these that benefit greatly from Able 1’s FLIR System (Forward-Looking Infared Imaging Systems). The FLIR is basically an HD, infrared camera, that can move 360 degrees and detect body temperatures.

Able 1

“The infrared essentially measures heat and density, and gives us a black and white picture,” explained Officer Messerschmidt. The camera has helped find suspects and locate weapons. Heat from a gun placed in a waistband, or heat due to the gun being fired can be detected using the system.

The system also helps to locate missing people. Most recently it helped the department locate a missing elderly man found in a creek. In fall 2013, Able 1 helped to locate an elderly woman who went missing from a nursing home. She was found face-down, in a ravine, covered in mud. The Pilots told WOWT 6 News, without Able 1, these people likely would have died.

Once at the scene the pilots are told to report to, they relay information they see from the sky, to the crews on the ground. Able 1 is known as a support unit. It assists in the search for parties, but it never gets directly involved in the action below. Arrests, investigation, etc., are handled by the ground crews.

A huge benefit that the helicopter provides is speed. Able 1 can make it from one side of Douglas County to the other in 7 minutes. By car, the officers said it would take 45 minutes.

WOWT 6 News saw that happen from the sky. From reports of a man threathening neighbors to a possible motorcycle thief up to no good, the officers took our crew all across the metro.

Joe Chiodo

The most serious call happened shortly after 10:30 Tuesday. A shooting at 36th and Blondo required Able 1’s assistance. Within minutes the pilots located a man who could be a possible suspect. They were able to relay information to the ground crews and have them find the man in seconds.

Only WOWT 6 News cameras were there from the sky and ground as police worked the shooting scene. While the investigation happened on the ground, the search for suspects and weapons happened in the sky.

The officers said the infrared camera is difficult to navigate. One pilot is in charge of directing the camera and searching through the images on the computer, while the other pilot controls the helicopter.

They told WOWT 6 News the helicopter unit is expensive, but it is clear the work they do certainly keeps the community safe.

For a more detailed look at what it’s like in Able 1 watch both videos in the player above. Officer and Pilot Jason Messerschmidt’s full interview dives into what he enjoys most about the job, why it helps keep the public safe, and what is so interesting about the infrared camera.

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