The Bay County Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit consists of two OH-58 helicopters that were obtained at very little cost from the military surplus system. A forward looking infrared radar (FLIR) that is valued at $106,000 was also obtained throughout a grant from the federal government. The FLIR uses heat differential instead of light and is essential in all aspects of the aviation unit mission. The unit has two full time pilots, five certified FLIR operators and a number of trained observers. The Air Unit is under the Command of Captain David Baldwin and Supervised by
Sgt. Ken Smiley.
The FLIR operators were chosen from other divisions within the Sheriff's office to include FSD, SID and CID. They are state trained and certified and are an extremely important part of the aviation unit. The observers are department trained and are equally valuable to the unit.
The Sheriff's Office helicopters are a very valuable lifesaving asset. They are used in search and rescue both over the land and the water. They have been instrumental in locating lost children, Alzheimer patients and overdue boaters, just to mention a few examples. The helicopters are also important in the war on drugs for surveillance and in the marijuana eradication effort. The number of marijuana plants located in the county has dropped from approximately 1,800 plants a year to about 200 plants. In many cases, those persons growing the marijuana have moved to locations where aircraft cannot intervene. The helicopters are also used for community service in areas such as the Red Ribbon Week where they are a big hit with the children learning about the pitfalls of drugs.
The aviation unit works closely with the Swat Team, Dive Team, K-9 Unit, Patrol,SID and CID in the accomplishment of their missions. The aviation unit is also sent to other counties for mutual aid when they can be used to save a life, help prevent a major crime, or capture a dangerous criminal. The unit has also been used by the U.S. Air Force for search and rescue and accident investigation. They also work closely with FDLE, DEA and Customs.