Spokane County Sheriff's Office Air 1 helicopter. SR file photo.
Last night was another interesting night at the Citizen's Academy class offered by the Spokane County Sheriff's Office that offers a peek into the department. We heard from people working forensics, DUI patrol and Air 1. The head of the forensics unit, Carrie Johnson, talked about how she got started in the business 35 years ago. "I was the first girl," she said. "I started as a secretary and worked my way up." The unit may have been all men when she started but in recent years it has been all women. The unit does include one man right now.
Johnson said that a relatively simple crime scene can take several hours to proceess. A more complicated one can take anywhere from 12 hours to three days. "We were at Robert Yates' house for two weeks," she said, referring to Spokane's serial killer.
Deputy Todd Miller talked about his work in the Spokane Valley traffic unit as the only DUI patrol officer. The unit includes two deputies on day shift and two deputies on night shift. He's a BAC instructor and a drug recognition expert. "Basically I drive around all the city of Spokane Valley and look for drunk drivers," he said. His peak time for finding drunk drivers is between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Sgt. Dave Ellis spoke about Air 1, the Sheriff's Office helicopter that was donated to the department by the U.S. Army. The helicopter is able to fly about 300 hours per year for only $92,000 because all the pilots are volunteers and parts are purchased from the military at a discount, Ellis said. The crew includes a pilot and tactical flight officer at a minimum. The 10 volunteer pilots include three certified flight instructors, four military pilots, one MedStar pilot, one retired LAPD pilot and a Holleywood stunt pilot.