Buckle up for a quick tour of Silicon Valley and San Jose: three major airports dot the length of the Peninsula – San Jose, San Francisco, and Moffet Field – not to mention the ever-busier Palo Alto and San Carlos airports. On the freeways, don’t be surprised to see self-driving cars emblazoned with adds for apps and start-ups. And while the air space over its major cities is lit by a white glow of light, the region’s mountain ranges and prized public parks present limitations to night-time visibility.
Policing the vast sprawl that is San Jose, California is challenging at the best of times. “We’re in the middle of a valley,” says Officer Andy Lacayo of the San Jose Police Department. “We have a ridge line that we’re surrounded by. There are public parks nearby. Just last night, there was a missing person in the mountains. If it wasn’t for the fact that we had night vision goggles, we wouldn’t have been able to look for this person, because it’s completely dark.”
The San Jose Police Department’s new H125 comes with night vision goggles and camera equipment, opening a new world for officers patrolling Silicon Valley’s southernmost city.
“A BIG JUMP FORWARD”
The San Jose Police took delivery of a new H125 in July 2018 and with it, a serious increase in the force’s public safety capabilities. In addition to a night vision-goggle compatible cockpit, the helicopter can handle a load of mission equipment that was less adapted to the department’s previous H120. In supporting ground patrol units during searches and suspect pursuits, and supporting the fire and sheriff’s departments, “flying the H125 was a big jump forward for what we do,” says Lacayo. “We have more equipment: the camera system, the lighting system, police radios. And we hope to help in rescue missions—that’s more weight, but the H125 is capable of expanding to that mission.”
H125 San Jose Police
Despite the area’s kilometres of jam-packed freeways – or perhaps because of it – the police department’s air support unit plays a starring role in suspect pursuits. A chat with one of Lacayo’s fellow officers sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie. “We had a shootout with officers,” says Officer Kris Kubasta. “The sheriff’s department tried to stop a stolen car with two suspects. They started shooting at the deputies. We picked up the vehicle just as it started driving the wrong way at speeds of 80 miles per hour on the freeway. We followed until the suspects ditched that vehicle and fled on foot with the shotgun until they came upon a UPS driver. They took him hostage at gunpoint, forced him into the UPS truck, and then fled.” Happy ending: after a hostage standoff, both suspects were taken into custody, and no officers were hurt. “The suspects would have been in the wind, had we not been overhead and without the capabilities of the H125, its camera system, and its advanced electronics.”
We have more equipment: the camera system, the lighting system, police radios. And we hope to help in rescue missions—that’s more weight, but the H125 is capable of expanding to that mission.
- Officer Andy Lacayo of the San Jose Police Department
“A WHOLE NEW WORLD”
Whether it be following lawbreakers down neighborhood streets or apprehending criminals (the H125 was integral in finding a bank robber the first day the helicopter was put into operation), its pilots laud the greater mission capability the helicopter provides. “We can fly longer, we can fly higher,” says Kubasta. “The equipment that it can carry is phenomenal. The space in the cockpit is great, enough to have a larger screen, more room to look around, and visibility. Plus with the night vision cockpit upgrade that we have—we’re in a whole new world.”
Article: Heather Couthaud
Photos: Jonny Caroll
Read more in Rotor magazine N°116