County Police Aviation Unit trains other police departmentsHomicide suspect flees from police as they close in on him. Officers from Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Westchester County and the MTA Police Departments establish a perimeter to keep the suspect contained within a few blocks.   

In the sky above, the Aviation Unit helicopter from the Department of Public Safety coordinates the establishment of the perimeter and elements of the subsequent search. The suspect is eventually flushed out of hiding and placed under arrest.

A month later, in northern Westchester, a drug dealer flees a police raid and runs into the woods. Westchester County, Yorktown and New York State Police respond, setting up a perimeter as the Aviation Unit circles above. Secure in the knowledge that the suspect has been pinned in to the wooded area, search teams enter the dense woods and find the dealer hiding in a stream.

These cases from 2009 are just two examples of successful joint efforts by law enforcement in Westchester County to contain and apprehend criminals seeking to elude capture. But rather than resting on their laurels, more than 300 police officers – including members of 29 Westchester police agencies – recently attended an advanced tactics seminar designed to sharpen their skills and make life even harder on the bad guys.

The seminar, Suspect Tactics and Perimeter Containment, provided advanced tactics and strategies that police on the ground and in the air can use to capture criminals fleeing from the scene of their crimes. It was sponsored by the county police Aviation Unit.

"We were really pleased to be able to bring this dynamic training to Westchester," Public Safety Commissioner George N. Longworth said. "These tactics can be employed by any department individually or as part of a multi-agency response to a larger incident. We also covered the tactics to be used when our Aviation Unit helicopter is assisting in the search."

Longworth said that participants ranged from chiefs and commissioners to police officers assigned to Canine Units and SWAT teams.

Deputy Chief John Roland of the Mount Vernon Police Department said that the large turnout showed how valuable the training was for law enforcement.

"The seminar drew a complete cross-section of law enforcement, not only from Westchester but throughout the region. That is really optimum in these days of interoperable communications, mutual aid and agencies working more closely together."

Roland said the range of tactics covered in the seminar were "equally important to commissioners and chiefs right down to beat cops."

Deputy Commissioner Joseph Yasinski noted that the Department of Public Safety's Aviation Unit is working more closely than ever with Westchester's 42 municipal police departments. In 2009, the Aviation Unit provided a record number of hours of assistance to local police.

"The county police helicopter is a great example of a shared service that benefits all communities in Westchester," he said. "The training under way this week will enable our Aviation Unit and local law enforcement to work together even more effectively."

The training was led by Los Angeles Police Officer Jack Schonely, a nationally recognized tactical trainer on search techniques, perimeter containment and the tactics used by suspects trying to elude police.

Schonely noted that criminals have dramatically changed their tactics in the past five to 10 years – in part because of knowledge they have gained about police strategies. As a result, police tactics need to evolve in response, he said.

The seminar focused on three key areas: Suspect Tactics, Perimeter Containment and Officer Down Scenarios. Throughout his presentation, Schonely used a good deal of video showing actual suspects fleeing from law enforcement and the tactics employed – successfully and otherwise – by each. In addition, Schonely said, information obtained during debriefs of criminal suspects was incorporated into the training.

In addition to the sizable contingent from Westchester, seminar attendees came from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and as far away as Canada and Washington, D.C.

Longworth thanked Capt. John Hodges, commander of the Special Operations Division, and Police Officer Chris Lieberman, the Aviation Unit's chief pilot, for their hard work in bringing the training to Westchester. He also said the seminar could not have taken place without the generosity and support of the Doral Arrowwood hotel and conference center in Rye Brook, which hosted the event.

"I thank them for being our partner in bringing this terrific training to Westchester," Longworth said.

The following police departments in Westchester had members attend the tactics training: Ardsley, Bedford, Bronxville, Croton-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Eastchester, Greenburgh, Harrison, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington, Mount Kisco, Mount Pleasant, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, New York State Police, Ossining Town, Ossining Village, Pelham, Port Chester, Pound Ridge, Rye City, Rye Brook, SUNY Purchase, Town of Mamaroneck, Tuckahoe, Westchester County, White Plains, Yonkers and Yorktown.