Crime & Courts

‘Snoopy,’ the police helicopter, lands infrared camera to help CMPD searches

Higher-tech cameras recently installed in Snoopy, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s helicopter, are proving bad news for suspects — even on pitch-dark nights.

Recently, CMPD officials say, a car thief suspect ran into an apartment complex, trying to elude police officers.

“We were able to pencil in on his image, able to see him perfectly,” CMPD Aviation Unit Officer Josh Baswell said at a news conference Wednesday.

“We could identify him as the suspect when he ran ... We could identify him as the suspect when (officers) brought him back out.”

CMPD’s new camera system on Snoopy includes a high sensitivity color camera and a high definition infrared camera. The system has been operating for about two months, Baswell said.

With the new technology, CMPD officers can zoom in from nearly 1,600 feet above ground. Baswell says the cameras help solve crimes faster.

The new infrared camera uses thermal energy “that takes tenths of a degree of heat and builds a picture based off of that,” Baswell said. “So we don’t have to have light to see those things, could be pitch black at night, very little moon light, and using that thermal energy we can direct officers to suspects (or) missing people.”

And Snoopy’s new, more powerful search light means “we can fly around 500 feet above ground (at night) and make a football field look like the daylight,” Baswell said.

“That’s obviously a huge safety upgrade for our officers and the public.”

Snoopy, when not flying, is kept in a helicopter hangar on Sentry Post Road, near a Charlotte Douglas International Airport runway. CMPD’s second police helicopter is in Tennessee getting the same new camera system installed.

The cost of the new equipment for both helicopters totals $1.3 million, which Charlotte City Council members approved spending over three budget cycles, according to Baswell.

This year, CMPD’s helicopters have logged more than 650 operational hours and responded to nearly 1,900 calls, according to Rob Tufano, director of the city’s public safety communications. He said the helicopters are “directly responsible” for 220 arrests and have helped make 248 other arrests.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.