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James R. Beall, 75; had a key role in boosting LAPD helicopter fleet

June 22, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

James R. Beall, a retired Los Angeles Police Department captain who played a crucial role in turning the agency's Air Support Division into what is said to be the largest municipal airborne operation in the world, has died. He was 75.

Beall, whose post-LAPD career included establishing an aerial drug interdiction unit in Colombia, died of heart failure Sunday at a convalescent hospital in Ojai, his brother Don said.

"Jim was the creator of the modern-day air support system," former Chief Daryl F. Gates said in an e-mail to The Times this week. "Before Jim, our helicopters were used for special situations only, and for traffic.

"Jim connected the people in the air with those on the ground, giving the patrol officer a completely new dimension to his or her search for a suspect. And high-speed chases became much safer when an air unit was available....

"He should be remembered fondly by every citizen in Los Angeles who feels comforted seeing that eye in the sky adding to their protection."

The Police Department launched its airborne law enforcement program in 1956 as the helicopter unit of the Traffic Enforcement Division. It began with one supervisor and four officers, who were assigned to operate the unit's single helicopter.

By the time then-Lt. Beall took over as officer in charge of what had become the Air Support Section under the command of the Tactical Operations Group in 1967, the number of helicopters had grown to three.

But under Beall's leadership, the section underwent a major expansion and eventually provided a full range of services, including 24-hour air patrol throughout the city and expanded airborne surveillance using turbine helicopters.

When the section was officially designated the Air Support Division in 1974 with then-Capt. Beall in charge, it consisted of 77 sworn personnel, 17 helicopters and a Cessna 210 airplane.

"I would say he's the father of Los Angeles airborne law enforcement," said Don Reuser, the recently retired chief pilot for the division.

"Jim was very instrumental in going to the City Council and Police Commission and getting us more aircraft, and he proved through statistics that the helicopter actually saved officers' time and saved money for the city," Reuser said.

Tim McBride, a retired LAPD commander, said Beall initially "wasn't sure helicopters were going to be effective at supporting patrol officers on the ground."

But after he assigned choppers to work with patrol officers day and night in two test areas, McBride said, their effectiveness in reducing crime and preventing injuries to officers and citizens "became irrefutable, and he became a crusader."

"He took it from a section that did mostly traffic to proving that helicopters can provide patrol just like a radio car but only from the air. 'The mission is the same; only the vehicle has changed' -- that was his motto, and he established that motto for the Air Support Division."

Beall, who served two terms as president of the Airborne Law Enforcement Assn., co-wrote the 1972 book "Helicopter Utilization in Municipal Law Enforcement."

Born in Valparaiso, Ind., on Oct. 10, 1931, Beall grew up in Oakland and Banning. He launched his law enforcement career at 18 as a fingerprint technician with the FBI. During a stint in the Army, he became an investigator with the Counter Intelligence Corps and served in Japan two years.

He joined the LAPD in 1954 but left four years later to work with his father, an oil distributor in Crescent City, Calif., before rejoining the department in 1961.

Beall left the Air Support Division in 1976 and retired from the LAPD the same year as commander of the Northeast Division.

In 1977, he and his family moved to Colombia, where he worked with Colombian law enforcement and U.S. agencies in training Colombian pilots to use aircraft in the surveillance and apprehension of drug traffickers.

Returning to the United States in late 1979, he worked in sales and marketing with Bell Helicopter Textron until retiring in the mid-1990s.

Beall is survived by his wife, Rosalyn; daughters Linda Beall and Janice Corbisiero; stepdaughters Becky Calvin and Barby Edwards; a stepson, Ken Hutchison; and two grandsons.

Funeral services will be private, and arrangements for an LAPD memorial service are pending.

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