The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Aviation Unit is being honored for more than 10 years of safe flying while using night vision equipment to protect the public.

In 1998, the Sheriff’s Aviation Unit increased its ability to run operations after sundown when it purchased four pairs of night vision goggles thanks to a special grant through the Sheriff’s Council. At that time, the Sheriff’s Aviation Unit was the first law enforcement agency west of the Mississippi River to use the ITT Generation 3 ANVIS-9 aviator goggles. The special goggles use state-of-the-art technology to amplify existing light (i.e. moonlight, reflections) to see objects that would otherwise be hidden by darkness.

During the past 13 years, the Sheriff’s Aviation Unit has used the goggles for countless missions, including partnering with the Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue Team in locating missing people, following suspects during pursuits and attacking wildfires at night, the last of which earned members of the Aviation Unit a prestigious H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor after they dropped water through the night during the Tea Fire in November 2008.

Aviation Specialties Unlimited, which supplies night vision equipment to more than 2,000 agencies, honored the first annual Night Vision Award winners during a luncheon held March 7 in Orlando, Fla. The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Aviation Unit was one of only two agencies to be recognized with a 10-Year Night Vision Award.

“It is an honor to recognize all the recipients this year,” said Mike Atwood, founder and CEO of ASU. “There are so many organizations and people out there everyday using night vision to help their communities. We were glad to honor some of them today.”

“We’ve found more than 200 people during rescue operations over the last 13 years,” said pilot Sgt. Gregg Weitzman of the Sheriff’s Aviation Unit. “These goggles allow us to fly safely at night and are the single best tool we have in our toolbox.”

— Drew Sugars is a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.