To honor the unsung heroes working in every corner of this country as volunteers, the National Association of Counties (NACo) launched the Acts of Caring Awards in 2000 as part of the Counties Serve America program, a long-term project to raise public awareness and understanding about county government. The awards recognize that by joining forces with county government, volunteers have a powerful impact on their communities that is both immediate and long lasting. The Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department’s Reserve Bureau Aero Squadron was one of 17 outstanding volunteer programs selected from across the nation to receive the 2007 Acts of Caring Award.
The Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Aero Squadron is an all volunteer unit in the Reserve Bureau. The mission of the Aero Squadron is to assist the Orange County Sheriff's Department by providing air support to Orange County law enforcement and other agencies that may require aviation resources to complete their tasks. The Aero Squadron ensures the highest level of pilot competency through continual training and a discreet selection process. It enhances the safety and security of the community by providing an additional cadre of professionally trained personnel to augment the regular forces and furnish unique disaster response capabilities.
In 1926, when airplanes in Orange County could be tallied in single digits, Johnny Martin, an instrumental figure in local aviation history, organized the first flying police squadron with four members. The squadron was known as the Police Aviation of Santa Ana. In 1947, Martin established a fixed-base operation at Orange County Airport and together with Sheriff Musick, the Aero Squadron, as we know it today, was formed. Johnny Martin served as the first captain for the original 12-member squadron. The unit has grown both in number of members and sophistication of aviation equipment. It has served at the pleasure of Sheriffs Musick, Gates and Carona. Reserve Captain Bud Rasner is the current commander of the unit and is the sixth person to hold that position since the program’s inception 60 years ago.
The Aero Squadron flies missions that provide transportation for staff, surveillance, fire watch, airborne photography, real time video down link, transportation corridor security, search and rescue, prisoner transport, radio repeater and static displays for the public. The Aero Squadron is made up of a combination Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified Reserve Deputies and Professional Services Civilian Responders (PSRs). The Reserve Deputies are also assigned to Airport Law Enforcement, Prisoner Transport (on the ground for patrol deputies), Special Event Security such as the Orange County Fair and other Reserve Bureau duties. The PSRs have been and continue to be trained in Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) techniques. This program benefits all law enforcement and emergency management agencies in the region.
Currently, the Aero Squadron includes 43 members with combined experience of over 200,000 flight hours. The unit is organized into the following five sections each with specific tasks and goals: Administration/Programs, Special Projects, Material/Finance, Operations and Training. A Reserve Lieutenant and a Reserve Sergeant head each section. During the past five years, the unit has contributed an average of 8,000 hours per year. The value of hours donated annually is approximately $500,000. The value of the aircraft, the use of which is donated, is in the tens of millions. Aircraft include a jet airplane, a turbo prop airplane and turbine helicopter.
During the past year, the Aero Squadron has flown photo missions over every Orange County city for homeland security. Aero Squadron ground surveyed, planned, flew and photographed more than 300 critical locations for this mission. The photographer for these missions is a PSR. All law enforcement agencies and emergency management officials have access to these images for emergency planning and response. This is in addition to the normal rate of annual missions.
The Aero Squadron has a legacy of 60 years of service and is prepared to meet the needs of Orange County for at least 60 more years. Due to POST adding requirements for peace officer training of Reserve Deputies, non-sworn personnel are taking more of a role in Aero Squadron. The Professional Services Civilian Responders are flying all missions with the exception of prisoner transport at this time. This will ensure that the Aero Squadron will remain relevant long into the future.
Congratulations to the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department’s
Reserve Bureau Aero Squadron for the distinguished honor of being selected as a
National Association of Counties 2007 Acts of Caring Award winner!
Click here for more information about the Orange County
Sheriff-Coroner’s Department Reserve Bureau.