ALEA rebrands to embrace all public safety aviation

As a final step in a multi-year effort to better serve all public safety airborne divisions, the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) will become the Airborne Public Safety Association (APSA) on Jan. 1, 2018. The change is a part of an overall effort to embrace all government public safety organization aviation units as well as expand the organization’s services for its members.

An Airbus AS350 B2 from the Los Angeles Police Department.
An Airbus AS350 B2 from the Los Angeles Police Department. Skip Robinson Photo

“The ALEA board felt, as I have for many years, that public safety aviation expands well beyond law enforcement,” said Dan Schwarzbach, ALEA CEO and executive director. “With this change we are completing a process that will allow us to become outwardly more inclusive of all who operate government aircraft for the welfare of the general public.”

Until recently, ALEA and its sister organization, the Airborne Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission (ALEAC), focused on supporting and accrediting public law enforcement air support units. APSA is designed to more readily support all agencies serving a public safety interest with aircraft on local, state, and federal levels, including those in firefighting, natural resources, search-and-rescue, utilities, emergency medical services (EMS), and even those operating unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for this work.

The move away from an exclusive focus on law enforcement at ALEA began in 2009 when the board elected to change the organization’s bylaws, no longer requiring individual members to be employed public law enforcement officers assigned to air units. Any interested person could join as an individual and any company with an interest in supporting public safety could be a corporate member.

Moving beyond just law enforcement, the Airborne Public Safety Association will focus on all agencies operating aircraft in the interest of public safety. Dan Megna Photo

“At about the same time, we had several fire organizations approach us and ask for a fire service accreditation program as there wasn’t anything of its kind out there, but they didn’t want it to be done by a law enforcement organization,” Schwarzbach explained. “Besides, as time has gone by, more and more public agencies have been developing air units and adding aviation assets. We needed a way to incorporate these people so we could better serve comprehensive airborne public safety.”

After changing its rules on membership, ALEA went about changing its accreditation arm, ALEAC. ALEA itself originally formed under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax code 501(c)(3) as a tax-exempt educational organization. Under this code, it cannot provide services for compensation. The ALEAC was formed in 2002 under tax code 501(c)(6), a non-profit designation with more leeway. Under this code, it is allowed to promote the common business interests of its members, such as through running accreditation programs, and lobbying to advance and promote the common interests of its members.

Over the next several years, the organizations worked to change by-laws, missions and vision statements to remove focus from law enforcement, instead referencing public safety, Schwarzbach said.

A Leonardo AW139 from the Maryland State Police flies over a cityscape.
A Leonardo AW139 from the Maryland State Police flies over a cityscape. Maryland State Police Photo

In 2012, the ALEAC changed. It began doing business as the Public Safety Aviation Accreditation Commission (PSAAC) and developed accreditation standards for firefighting and search-and-rescue government agency air units in addition to its law enforcement standards.

As a part of the final stages of the rebranding and shift at ALEA, a brand new non-profit organization was incorporated under 501(c)(6) to serve as APSA. This new incarnation of the organization allows APSA to not only serve all aspects of government agency public service aviation, but also expand its offerings for these members, including providing one-on-one consultations, accreditation, safety audits, lobbying efforts, trade shows, trainings, and the like.

“Before, ALEA was limited by what we were allowed to do under a (c)(3), which is why we created the commission,” Schwarzbach said. “When people wanted consultation to start up a new air support unit, preparation for a safety audit, specific training, or even help lobbying, we had to refer them to outside companies. Now, we will be able to better serve our members directly.”

On Jan. 1, 2018, PSAAC will dissolve, and the accreditation work will be done by APSA through its newly formed Airborne Public Safety Accreditation Commission (APSAC), now all under one umbrella. The original ALEA corporation with its 501(c)(3) will become the Airborne Public Safety Foundation, a mainly charitable arm supporting the work of airborne public safety, Schwarzbach said.

The slow move has opened new doors for the organization, bringing in new members, sectors of the industry, and even a few partnerships.

The Helicopter Rescue and Response Association (HRRA) reached out to ALEA recently inquiring about how ALEA could help its members, Schwarzbach said. After meeting with Schwarzbach and learning of the changes taking place in ALEA, the HRRA decided to merge with ALEA. Once the full rebranding and transfer to APSA takes place on Jan. 1, the HRRA, serving individuals, companies, and agencies involved in search-and-rescue, will dissolve and all its members will automatically become members of APSA, Schwarzbach said.

As a part of the growth and expansion, Schwarzbach also hopes to announce finalization of public safety UAS accreditation standards this October at the organization’s Public Safety Drone Expo in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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