The plane used to fly over Long Island Expressway Friday...

The plane used to fly over Long Island Expressway Friday as part of a partnership between the Bergen County, N.J., prosecutor's office and Suffolk County Sheriff's Office to target reckless drivers. (June 18, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

Bad drivers, beware: Traffic enforcement in Suffolk could reach new heights.

The Suffolk sheriff's office is experimenting with a new weapon - from the sky - in its fight against dangerous driving, and if it works, it may be added to the county's arsenal of technology.

In a trial program tested during Friday morning's rush-hour commute, spotters aboard a small plane hovering as low as 1,000 feet above the Long Island Expressway surreptitiously spied aggressive driving and radioed details to cruisers on the highway.

Two more airborne enforcement flights are planned within the next few weeks, possibly including Sunrise Highway.

Sheriff's deputies Friday handed out 88 traffic summonses to motorists between 7:30 and 10:30 a.m., many based on what the spotters saw from the P92 Eaglet fixed-wing, single-engine plane, said Chief Michael Sharkey of the sheriff's office.

The violators - motorists who hazardously switched lanes, broke carpool-lane rules, followed too closely - were ticketed by units on the ground based on the eyes in the sky, said Sheriff Vincent DeMarco.

"We're looking to change driving behavior," DeMarco said Friday in Yaphank.

An average rush-hour morning yields perhaps a third as many tickets as were issued Friday, said Deputy Sheriff Lt. Nick Migliore, who commands the office's highway enforcement unit.

"The line of sight is tremendous when you're up there," DeMarco said.

The office doesn't own the plane flown Friday - it was flown by a pilot-detective from the Bergen, N.J., county prosecutor's office, which itself has the plane on loan from the federal Department of Justice - but Suffolk is poised to be among the next recipients of a plane from a national program that gives aircraft to law enforcement agencies, said Tim Adelman, who helps manage the federal government's aviation grants.

Whether Suffolk gets a plane depends on the availability of federal funds, Adelman said. Congress allocates funding for the program.

The federal government lends planes to municipalities to evaluate them for law enforcement use, he said.

Friday's flight didn't cost Suffolk taxpayers anything, DeMarco said; even the aircraft's fuel - roughly $200 for the trip - was paid for by Bergen County, the agencies said. Under the terms of the federal agreement, Bergen County is encouraged to share the plane with nearby municipalities, and it paid for the fuel so it wouldn't be subject to certain FAA regulations.

Friday's mission didn't seek speeders per se because doing so from the air requires calculating how long a vehicle takes to travel between two designated points.

Trapping and ticketing bad drivers is just one of the ways that municipalities have put the loaner planes to use, Adelman said.

They've been used to conduct surveillance, search and rescue and marijuana eradication, and more, Adelman said.

Drivers interviewed at the Park and Ride off the LIE's Exit 63 in Medford Friday afternoon hadn't heard that the authorities were watching the highway from the sky.

Smithtown resident Wayne Miller, still raw from a recent encounter with an obnoxious driver, said he supported a crackdown. "There are a lot of crazy people on the road," Miller, 55, said. "Something has to be done about it."

But Mike Cumo, a social worker from Yaphank parked in the lot, doesn't like the program and said it reeks of Big Brother. "They're now watching from the sky," said Cumo, 32. "Soon there'll be a camera every single place."

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