SOUTHEAST AREA : Drug Officers Add to Their Arsenal

Local narcotics officers have added air support to their war on drugs.

Bell, Maywood, South Gate and Vernon, all members of Southeast Cities Against Narcotics, will soon contract a high-altitude surveillance helicopter from BDNTC Inc. of Walnut to aid the area's undercover drug team.

The helicopter will help detectives as they track drug dealers through neighborhoods or along freeways and will aid officers in chases, police officials said. "If you have a high-altitude helicopter watching you, it's almost impossible to detect," said Maywood Police Chief Theodore Heidke. "And you can't lose a helicopter" during a chase.

The cities will pay for the air service with 15% of the net amount seized during cases in which the helicopter participates, said Capt. Gary Kennedy of the South Gate Police Department. The company will provide pilots for the chopper, but they will be accompanied by members of the SCAN team.

Bell and South Gate have approved the helicopter service; Maywood and Vernon are expected to follow.

SCAN is a restructured version of the defunct Southeast Narcotics Enforcement Team, a local effort that played a major role in the world's largest cocaine bust, seizing 21 tons of the drug and $10 million in cash in Sylmar in 1989, Kennedy said.

That team was disbanded in 1991 when a cooperative countywide task force was formed to attack drug trafficking. Although the Los Angeles Interagency Taskforce merged detectives from the Southeast area with members of about 40 other police agencies, Southeast area law enforcement officials discovered there was still a need for a local undercover narcotics team.

"What we found is that the big task forces are off chasing the big crooks, and the little crooks are going untouched," said Lt. Brad Hooper of the Bell Police Department.

When the countywide task force was created, South Gate, for example, shifted all three of its narcotics officers to it. This year, the city recalled two officers to join SCAN.

In addition to the helicopter unit, the team will use tools such as a narcotics-sniffing dog and an armored vehicle to transport drugs and cash that have been seized.

"The goal is, like any other narcotics team, to wipe out drugs in the street," Hooper said. "But it'll never happen in our lifetime. It's such a flood that for every (drug dealer) you take off the street, two spring up to replace them."

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