Saskatoon police pilots win international aviation award

Sgt. Wade Bourassa and Const. Kristopher Kluz received the Airborne Law Enforcement Association's award for Fixed-Wing Operator of the Year.

It's the first time Saskatoon police win Airborne Law Enforcement Association award

Saskatoon police's Air Support Unit wins law enforcement award. (Saskatoon Police Service)

Pilots manning the Saskatoon Police Service's Air Support Unit have been named the top aviation team in North America.

On July 22 in Savannah, Ga., Sgt. Wade Bourassa and Const. Kristopher Kluz received the Aviation Law Enforcement Association's (ALEA) Operator of the Year award for their service manning Air1, the Saskatoon Police Service's Air Support Unit (ASU).

Sgt. Bourassa said 2015 was a banner year for the ASU, adding they've been called upon for support almost every day of the year.

"It's gotten to the point where my phone rings every single day, and if we're not on patrol someone is calling on us to be on patrol," Bourassa said.

Last year, the ASU was credited in the arrests of 150 people, including eight wanted for murder. More than 500 criminal charges were laid thanks to their involvement. Bourassa said the ASU flew about 1,100 hours in 2015.

The one incident that sticks out for him was when the ASU was called to support the Saskatchewan RCMP in pursuit of a couple wanted in connection to an alleged murder in Saskatoon's Stonebridge neighbourhood.

"They were assisting us with a couple of people who were fleeing from police and it was a couple of murder suspects the Saskatoon Police were looking for," Bourassa said. "He turned a gun on the RCMP officers in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. There's no way they would've seen him turn the gun in this dark field west of town."

With the help of the ASU, Bourassa alerted Mounties of the threat and they ended up taking one man into custody and seizing a gun at the scene.

"It just shows our value on all aspects," Bourassa said. "My phone rang off the hook for two days from RCMP officers thanking us all over the province."

Bourassa was also part of a rescue effort in 2014 in Saskatoon when a man inside a home on Coppermine Crescent in Saskatoon's Lawson Heights neighbourhood turned a gun on a woman and her children. The police plane helped officers on the ground rescue the woman and children while monitoring what was happening inside the home.

"Crime in Saskatoon is changing dramatically and it's becoming more violent and more dangerous," he said. "We have to be a lot more careful and that brings air support to the forefront to keep our people safe."

ALEA is an international association that supports, promotes, and advances the safe and effective utilization of aircraft by governmental agencies in support of public safety missions through training, networking, advocacy, and educational programs.

The association gives out seven awards annually to police air support units in North America, and it's the first time Saskatoon officers have won.

With files from The Canadian Press