Their Specialty Is Oversight

Brian Gruhkle might have briefly thought that he was in a real-life episode of "The X Files" as he sat in a desolate Santa Clarita field Monday night. But the blinding light that descended upon his stuck pickup truck was all too terrestrial in origin. It was a helicopter with a ticket-writing sheriff's deputy who handed him a misdemeanor citation for trespassing.

"It seems to me that they have nothing better to do than harass young people, when there's (more serious crimes) going on in other parts," Gruhkle groused.

We beg to differ. Part of the deputy's responsibility is to watch out for brush fires in remote areas of the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys and for those who might deliberately set them.

Other aerial patrols are taking place over the Angeles National Forest, involving perhaps the most aerodynamic of neighborhood watch groups: the Sylmar Hang Gliding Assn.'s arson and crime watch.

Each day, one or more of the group's 200 members are out, soaring for hours over areas near Kagel Mountain. They're on the lookout for fires and--more dubiously--suspicious folks. Members of the Tujunga ranger district have credited the group with being good informants, and they are said to have helped prevent some fires from turning into larger ones by spotting them quickly and notifying authorities.

Perhaps now that little walk around the block on behalf of your neighborhood watch group won't seem like burden.

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