The California National Guard was called into service by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to provide a helicopter and pilot to assist local law enforcement authorities in drug surveillance operations.
The OH-58 chopper is being made available to Los Angeles County at the request of Sheriff Sherman Block. It will be used only for observing drug suspects from the air, according to an agreement approved by the supervisors, although there is a provision in the agreement that allows it to land to assist in life-threatening emergencies.
The helicopter, based at the Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center in Orange County, and its volunteer pilot will be unarmed. A sheriff's deputy who will ride along to conduct the surveillance will carry a weapon but is prohibited from firing it from the helicopter.
A guard helicopter has been assisting the Los Angeles Police Department in drug surveillance for nearly a year under a federal program designed to increase military involvement in the war against drug trafficking. The federal government pays for the program.
Last year, a guard helicopter engaged in anti-drug efforts crashed in Imperial County, killing five deputies from different parts of Southern California and three guardsmen aboard.
Supervisor Kenneth Hahn has called for deploying military police to ride along with local law enforcement officers in combating gang violence on the streets. A spokeswoman for Block said the sheriff opposes the idea because the guardsmen do not have the proper law enforcement training.