By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Jeff Van Es, Aerial Police Officer
The burglar riding a bicycle at 2 a.m. in Costa Mesa’s 17th Street commercial area was an idiot. He nervously checked for potential witnesses on the ground but ignored the helicopter circling overhead. Using a log, he smashed a store window and attempted to pedal away with stolen property. Dumbfounded arresting officers asked him if he’d heard the helicopter. Sure, the burglar replied. “But I thought they couldn’t see me in the dark.”
That arrest is credited to Jeff Van Es, a 13-year aerial police officer for the Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana police departments. (In 1996, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa formed a joint powers authority called ABLE—Airborne Law Enforcement; Santa Ana helps defray the costs in exchange for daily patrols.) Like the other six ABLE pilots, Van Es doesn’t need daylight to see a suspect. He’s got powerful binoculars, a zoom-lens digital camera, night vision goggles and an infrared detection system that can spot a kitten hiding under a bush from an altitude of 1,000 feet.
Except for the time an irate drug dealer fired five or six shots from a rifle at his helicopter, you’ll never find anybody with a better office. Van Es spends about five hours of each day or night shift in the Eagle (the name for all three of the police birds), but it’s not plush. It’s fast. The helicopter can race from Newport Beach surf to the eastern stretches of Santa Ana in less than four minutes.
And then there’s the spectacular views that generate interesting tidbits: migrating whales come much closer to the beach than you’d guess; large, underground stadium-style cinemas are the latest craze in Newport Coast home constructions; and traffic accidents occasionally happen in odd, inexplicable cluster patterns.
But the real joy for Van Es, who spent almost four years as a Santa Ana street cop, is the police work. In 1994, he and colleague John Susman helped find the infamous white Bronco with a fleeing O.J. Simpson. Eventually, two Orange County police helicopters conducting the Simpson air pursuit were joined by 19 news helicopters and three news airplanes. “It was scary,” he recalled. “We were surrounded. It’s amazing nobody crashed.”
Though there are two pilots on each shift, one of them acts as the observer operating the surveillance equipment. On a recent August shift, Van Es served as the observer for veteran pilot K.C. Gleason. The pair work well together. Indeed, they know each other so well they sometimes communicate merely with hand signals. Gleason, whose grandfather played Doc on the 1960s television series Gunsmoke, is a gifted pilot known to add comic relief to their work, while Van Es demonstrates uncanny visual skills.
During a single 90-minute period, Van Es spotted a robbery/shooting suspect in a car, provided detailed intelligence for undercover officers preparing a narcotics raid, located a stolen Land Rover in Little Saigon, frustrated drug dealers in a Santa Ana combat zone, and helped capture a convicted felon who fled a fatal truck accident near Mile Square Park.
Says the 39-year-old married father of two children, “I’d wanted to be a police helicopter pilot since the fourth grade, and now I have the best job in the world.” (R. Scott Moxley)
Day Laborer in Laguna Canyon
It’s not easy being a day laborer these days, as racist city officials shut down jornalerosites (hola, Allan Mansoor!) or pass laws to kick the Mexicans out from city limits (that’s you, Hazelton, Pennsylvania!). But the 40 or so Latino men who wait patiently each chilly morning at the Laguna Beach Day Worker Center live the good vida. Sure, the pay is lousy, but no other day laborer site in Orange County can boast such a gorgeous view (snuggled between two Laguna canyons), ample shade, consistent sea breeze and free meals provided by city churches and good folks. Sí, the day laborers must endure the picket signs and video cameras of Minutemen and Nazis, but the workers find moral support from Chicano activists who match the anti-immigrant protesters shriek-for-shriek. And even after Caltrans ordered Laguna Beach to close down the day laborer center earlier this year when Minuteman Project member Eileen Garcia discovered Caltrans and not the city owned the land upon which it operated, the jornalerosremained charmed. City officials quickly stepped in and not only negotiated a one-year lease to keep the Day Worker Center open, but also offered to buy the property so that Lagunans can continue to find cheap, tax-free labor. Quite the life for a bunch of illegals, no? (Gustavo Arellano)
TORIE FULLER, AERIAL ACROBAT, PIRATE’S DINNER ADVENTURE
Anyone who’s ever been at the “odd jobs” stage in his or her professional life knows how much odd jobs can—and often do—suck. And we’re not just talking Gap-manager suck here—try waitressing suck. Starbucks-barista suck. Nordstrom-women’s-shoe-department suck.
Which is why it’s always good to regularly brush up on your circus skills—you know, as a résumé enhancer, something that might come in handy one day, something to help spring you out of minimum-wage hell.