The Nassau County Police Department’s Aviation Unit is suffering from a shortage of helicopter pilots, Commissioner Patrick Ryder said.
The unit has operated in recent years with five pilots to fly its three choppers but is down to four after a pilot took an extended sick leave.
Two Nassau police officers are undergoing pilot training.
“The Nassau County Police Department Aviation unit over the past several months has experienced a reduction of staff due to retirements, injuries and pilots being deployed by the military reserves,” Ryder said in a statement Tuesday. “The department has actively posted requests for qualified officers and continues to train pilots for these positions. However, the training is lengthy and labor intensive.”
Police use the helicopters to search for criminal suspects, missing persons and the transport of sick or injured people to hospitals.
Nassau Police Benevolent Association President James McDermott said the Aviation Unit is unable to provide round-the-clock service even when it is fully staffed, and sometimes has to seek help from the Suffolk or New York police departments.
McDermott also called the shortage self-inflicted, saying Nassau police leaders failed to anticipate retirements and train officers in advance. He said county officials are reluctant to pay overtime to pilots and other aviation unit personnel.
“We have the birds, we just don’t have the pilots,” McDermott said. “When you have to depend on Suffolk County and the NYPD to provide pilots, it is embarrassing.”
Nassau police officials declined to comment.
Suffolk police have 11 pilots and four helicopters, said Chief of Department Stuart Cameron. Suffolk police have a memorandum of understanding with Nassau police that calls for the agencies to provide assistance to each other when requested, Cameron said.
“Law enforcement helps each other, that’s what we do,” Cameron said. “We will help Nassau County when they ask for help.”
Cameron said the requests from Nassau have been infrequent.
“That kind of partnership is invaluable,” Cameron said. “It is mutually beneficial. It’s a good partnership.”