KHP Air Support Unit: Detecting suspects from air and leading them to arrest

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Twice within a week, the Kansas Highway Patrol protected the lives of fellow officers from the air using thermal technology.

“We were called out twice for the sheriff’s office for two different manhunts, both extremely serious crimes,” said KHP Pilot Ryan Tauer.

Trooper Tauer with the Air Support Unit believes the view from the thermal imaging lens on their fixed-winged plane assists them to save lives.

“It is quite an adrenaline rush whenever we are on those calls, knowing that it is up to us that if we do not find that suspect, more people could be injured or hurt,” Tauer said.

One of the recent times their help was needed was February 11.

In a video provided by the Kansas Highway Patrol Air Support Unit, a suspect wanted for stealing a car, can be seen near a body of water in Butler County. Earlier, the suspect rammed the stolen car into a sheriff’s patrol car. The suspect was also feared to be armed. The Air Support Unit was able to pinpoint his location using his body heat — giving deputies a chance to wait out on him till daylight appeared and helped them make a successful arrest.

“The searching team was about 15-yards from where he was and he was already firing shots at them — so without us on the scene being able to find that person, those officers probably would have been ambushed,” Tauer said about the Air Patrol Unit’s strategic encounter.

Fly forward to February 16 — in another video shared by the unit, a suspect can be seen laying in a field in Bulter County. Sheriff’s deputies said earlier that afternoon, the suspect was caught on someone’s property accused of stealing. He was also feared to be armed. The Air Support Unit successfully lined up the deputies and walked them right to the suspect in the field.

“When we are on scene and we are able to help coordinate the ground units, it is a good feeling to find those people,” Tauer added.

The unit says they are trying to get more funding from the state to buy newer camera equipment and maybe add another helicopter and plane. Tauer says they are working on partnerships to help the fire department for wildfire calls and car submersions.

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