WILLITS, 6/14/19 — Yesterday we published an article concerning recent helicopter activity in the skies above Mendocino County, which you can read here. From Monday to Thursday the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) was working out of the Ukiah Airport, conducting an operation in conjunction with a branch of the federal Department of Homeland Security, to train a variety of law enforcement officers in how to spot cannabis grows from the air. This accounted for the increased helicopter activity around the county. In addition Pacific Gas & Electric has been flying over transmission lines, sometimes in similar helicopters.
Today Captain Greg Van Patten of the MCSO, responded to some questions with a very thorough and open email, which we are publishing in the format of a Q&A, very lightly edited for punctuation and typos.
TMV: Can you confirm the specific kinds of aircraft flying, and what their objective is? What is the nature of the collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, and are there any other state, federal, or local agencies involved in the training? Specifically is the National Guard involved?
MCSO: The specific nature of the class is to train peace officers to be aerial observers for locating and identifying marijuana as well as associated environmental crimes.
The collaboration with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is solely for the use of the aircraft as they were able to provide two at no cost to the Sheriff’s Office. The only other federal collaboration is with DEA, as they are sponsors of the class.
State agencies are only involved inasmuch as being students in the class. Specifically California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW). The California Air National Guard (CAANG) is not involved, however they would have been had their aircraft been available. They promised two airframes and within the last week they canceled due to lack of pilots for the UH 72 Lakota and mechanical problems with the UH60 Blackhawk.
TMV: Are you aware of any other operations in the county involving the National Guard?
MCSO: There are currently no other operations involving the CAANG [California Air National Guard].
TMV: Is the training being paid for by Homeland Security, a grant, or out of county funds?
MCSO: The DEA is paying for the training.
TMV: How many MCSO personnel are involved?
MCSO: 6 Deputies
TMV: Are you flying over and inspecting only public lands, or are you also inspecting private timber lands and other private property? And what are you looking for?
MCSO: Both public and private lands are being flown, including timber land and other private property — looking for non-permitted marijuana cultivation sites with obvious environmental crimes such as grading, tree removal, water diversion etc.
TMV: During the course of this training has the MSCO also been gathering information on or compiling a list of illegal grows on private lands?
TMV: Additionally, has the MCSO shared with any federal agencies a list of, or details about, permitted grows, or grows in the the permitting process?
MCSO: To my knowledge MCSO has not specifically, but the State of California Cannabis Control openly provides the info to federal and state agencies.
TMV: And lastly, will you be preforming other similar trainings this summer?
MCSO: No additional trainings are planned at this time.