By now you have probably heard about our being handcuffed at gunpoint by the police at Santa Barbara Airport. Our registration number had mistakenly shown up on a stolen aircraft list.
Being detained at gunpoint, handcuffed and placed in two separate police cars, left us shaken enough that we had misgivings about flying home that afternoon—especially using the IFR system that had set us up for this ordeal in the first place. Sleeping at night hasn’t been easy either. Our minds keep replaying the events.
This could, of course, have happened to any pilot. The important point is to turn this into a learning opportunity for everyone involved so this doesn’t happen to innocent pilots again.
Chief Sanchez Apologized
I should note that the Chief of Police at Santa Barbara has called to apologize for our “short detainment”. I explained that we neither asked for nor expected an apology, but I was very appreciative. On the other hand, I explained, it wasn’t the detainment that I objected to. It was that so many guns were trained on us. In fact what bothered me most was not the treatment I had received, but seeing Martha have guns being pointed at her and seeing her being handcuffed.
Chief Sanchez explained that police are not trained to do anything else when they detain an airplane but to treat it as a high-risk traffic stop. The problem is that a high-risk traffic stop involves aiming guns. I said that I understood that the officers followed the procedure for a high-risk traffic stop to the letter. My question is whether that procedure should have been used.
Treating It As a High-Risk Traffic Stop Was Not Necessary
In my view it will be very rare when high-risk traffic stop procedures are appropriate for aircraft.
The aircraft are being intercepted because they are in the IFR/flight-following system. The behavior of these aircraft is very predictable. They have announced to the world who they are, how to reach them, and when and where they are going.
Once on the ground at an airport, they will announce on the radio their destination on the airport. They will taxi to the FBO, and if it is a 172, like we were flying, they will usually be directed to a remote parking spot. The pilot then will tie the airplane down, lock the doors, and walk away from the airplane. The police can then simply walk up to the occupants and talk to them without fear of their attempting to flee. Once the airplane is parked, there is no way to go anywhere. They don’t even have access to a car yet. The suspects will have immobilized themselves.
If, on the other hand, the police set up an interception in a remote area instead of at the FBO, any truly guilty suspect would most likely spot the police cars, as we did, before they pulled into the parking area, realize what is happening, and simply take off from the taxiway before the interception took place. This remote interception procedure only results in abusing the compliant innocent while giving the guilty the opportunity to flee.
For an aircraft flying to a remote airport in the middle of the night, it is possible more extreme measures would be required, but it is unlikely that aircraft would have been using the IFR/flight-following system and be reported. So this situation is unlikely to come up.
Making Sure Procedures Are Changed In The Future
Since this incident happened we have learned that it is not uncommon. And we have been given the details of two other recent cases where innocent pilots have been intercepted as a result of the registration number of a stolen aircraft being re-assigned by the FAA. However, in neither one of those cases were guns drawn and aimed at the pilots.
There are several failure points that result in these mistaken aircraft interceptions happening. Each failure point can and should be corrected.
- The FAA should not re-assign numbers of stolen aircraft unless the system is changed to protect the users of the aircraft the number is re-assigned to. The registration number on our aircraft, N50545, had been previously assigned to a 1968 C150 that was stolen. According to the owner, the C150 was never found, but the FAA re-assigned the number to our C172 anyway.
- El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) should check the FAA database before notifying agencies that a stolen aircraft in the IFR system is inbound. Plus, the notifications should distinguish between suspected drug smugglers, terrorists and aircraft thieves. It would have taken only about a minute on www.FAA.gov for them to search the registration number in question to learn that number had been re-assigned to a different aircraft.
- There needs to be a system for correcting the stolen aircraft database and better coordination between agencies. The aircraft we were flying had been intercepted 18 months ago for the same reason, on a trip by a Cessna employee between the Cessna factory and Wichita, KS. Yet nobody bothered to remove the aircraft from the stolen aircraft list.
- Police departments should be given Standard Operating Procedures and training regarding meeting suspicious aircraft. Aircraft are different from cars. Plus, police departments should take the 60 seconds or so required to determine that the suspect aircraft has not had the registration number re-assigned and is the correct make and model.
One thing that still bothers me about this case is that the Santa Barbara Police Department is still treating this case as if it were no big deal. I guess it isn’t a big deal if you are on the aiming end of the gun. And I have to admit that nobody was hurt and we and the police returned to our homes that night. Their reports to the press characterize us as” laughing afterwards” and “completely understanding”. The truth is that we were completely cooperative, and what we understood is that it is never wise to argue with a law enforcement officer. There will always be plenty of time for argument later on if you survive the incident.
We were not insulted or offended personally. We just feel that drawing guns on people is dangerous business—not to be done unless it is absolutely necessary. And it will continue to happen to other pilots unless the system is changed.
I think you really missed an opportunity here. You should have yelled for your wife to RUN. A couple of pop pop’s later, you’d be in line for a upgraded wife and a healthy settlement with the SBPD. Think faster next time King !!
What a stupid comment. We all love Martha
If it happened to a lowly nobody private pilot, you would not be aware of it. Only because it happened to high-profile aviation professionals are you reading this. Having a loaded gun(s) aimed at you is very traumatic to say the least. Accidents happen with loaded guns nearly everyday. Glad this story had a good outcome.
I am sorry that this happens to you, but you must realize that in most cases when something such as this happen the suspects aren’t calm and more than likely they are not innocent. I, as a person with some Law Enforcement training and knowledge, know that the main reason they have you at gun point and put you in hand cuffs is for officer safety. They do not know if you have a weapon or if you have intent to hurt or kill an officer. They do this as a precaution.
Hello John and Martha:
I really feel sorry for You people about what happened there in Santa Barbara and I am Hoping that the Santa Barbara Police will also feel sorry for You as well and that they will learn from their experience and immediately begin to change their protocols for dealing with these types of reports. I don’t know if It would help anybody in future situations like Yours, but I’ll bet that they will think twice about doing something like that again!
It would be hard not to accuse them of being completely ignorant of the facts and issues of the type of simple bureaucratic situation that was presented to both You and to them. My guess is that they have to deal with vehicle registration issues every day and that they really should have known better. What happened to them may be just assumed to be a simple lapse of their judgement. I Hope that somebody told them to start to clean up their act1
You people are the best Instructors in the Cyberworld! I am still just a Sim Pilot right now, but I am only Good at It because I have all of Your courses for Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot, Instrument Rating from 1999 and I am still enjoying them today. I also have Your Cessna “cleared for take off” Video set as well as the FS 2004 and Your Ham Radio Video courses from the 1990’s Your Professionalism was a big help in that set of certifications as well.
I am just Hoping that this type of a situation will never happen to You again. I Hope that You will learn to relax and meditate and get turned on to positive experiences after Your ordeal. I’ll bet a lot of people really do understand Your situation. I have had to deal with similar issues a lot of times. Working with Pitt Bull rescue Dogs has helped me out a lot as therapy and tuning into some inspired teachers like Greg Laurie’s team and the rev.Jim Tolle has helped a lot too.
I can hardly believe that this type of an Incident could happen in the real world with all of our Modern Technology. You’re right that the El Paso Intelligence center, The FAA and the Police need to change their protocols and to plan on doing their work more Safely. I Hope they will find a way to gain some respect for Aviators and that they can patch up their image one day.
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John and Martha,
I am glad you weren’t injured by the overreaction of the ill-trained police. I have been flying for over twenty years and learned with your original VHS training series. You are both an inspiration to me and I look forward to many more years of quality products coming out of King Schools!
Maybe it’s time for you guys to create a training series for law-enforcement personnel.??
I am sorry that our law enforcement people are not properly trained..If this had happened to me I would have contacted Rep. Don Young for the state of Alaska and let his office staff look into it and make STRONG recommendations to the agencies involved. They may just need a little money for training ,Or MAYBE a lot less in their next budget.
I agree that there is a major flaw with how plane registration numbers are issued, but the people who are complaining about the police “drawing guns” are being incredibly naive. Two people in a plane registered as stolen are potential felons and therefore potentially dangerous, regardless of how they think they appear. The police have every right to do what they feel is necessary until they have determined (not assumed) that there is no threat. I guarantee that every person on this site who feels the police are over-zealous, or my favorite, gestapo, would NEVER put themselves in the same position- in fact, non-law enforcement are more likely to overreact when they think they atre in danger. Cops know that a show of force keeps them safe until they have everything figured out.
And for the person who thinks only the FAA police should be involved, and not the police- you are an idiot. A stolen airplane is not an FAA issue. That’s like saying that only the DMV employees should deal with stolen vehicles.
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The TSA should not be in charge of anything. With them conducting X-Ray strip search, sexual assault’s every day at every major airport in the country. For no other reason than someone looks good or they are the 10th or whatever person in line is stupid and illegal. They should all be in jail everyone of them from the top down. Other than that good post. I hope the King’s do go after SBPD to teach the police that they are subject to the law just like the rest of us. That company that provided the false information should really be hit hard in a civil court. I suspect the King’s will probably not go there. Usually I am not a fan of going to court but in this case it is justified.
tsa should not be in cherge of anything! Theuy should be abolished. Nothing but Nazi brownshirts. The FAA should be in charge of anything involing aircraft/airports.
Airports and their security should be under federal TSA purview, not local enforcement. If budget cuts and man power shortages prevent federal investigations from taking place, then local law enforcement should be mandated by TSA to undergo training if they are to be given purview over federally controlled airport areas (KSBA is one of them). One could argue that only taxiways and runways are federally managed while ramp areas are county/city managed (try telling that to TSA!).
Intention was good, execution was grossly flawed. Mr. King is right in that real criminals are not as stupid as law enforcement would like them to be when it comes to stealing airplanes (did they ever find who stole the original 1968 C150? …no, ie, smart criminal). However, as John said, even so, this situation was NOT handled correctly and warrants a civil suit by jury for failure to follow “reasonable” law enforcement procedures.
Mr. King himself said that the administrator guy he met at the dinner that night was in CYA mode. The only thing these people understand is when it hits them in the pocketbook. Like Mr. King said, a 60-second check of the FAA website would have solved this. The FAA should permanently retire stolen N numbers because it would prevent this EPIC organization in El Paso from disseminating false information for which they should be civilly liable. Mr. King is just the kind of man with the resources to do that. The Kings are very nice people who are letting the Santa Barbara Police off. Hey Mr. King, statute of limitations has not run out, and these guys are NOT your friends (hey did they ever prove Michael Jackson’s guilt?).
These Santa Barbara police officers set up a lethal situation and could have shot you. Just look at the former Oakland BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle, shooting already handcuffed Oscar Grant dead on the ground as was determined in a court of law (youtube still has the video). Had this happened to a lowly pilot, you never would have heard about it; just like the poor Cessna employee who got messed with a year and a half ago on the Kings’ same Cessna 2009 C172 aircraft.
The time for a formal apology has passed. It would have been so easy for the Santa Barbara Police to say, hey look people, we are trying to nail the bad guys here, and we mistook you, sorry, life moves on. BUT, they NEVER say sorry. This situation absolutely deserves a civil suit for failure to provide due process in a law enforcement agency’s duty to perform “reasonably” in its execution of a planned arrest (read: check a website). The “city’s finest” are to be held accountable to a higher standard, and if not, then there are civil avenues to enforce compliance, through extraction of monetary compensation, to act as a “reasonable” law enforcement agency should as determined in a court of law.
Mr. and Mrs. King, do not let this one pass for the rest of us. We are not as lucky as you to have your resources to make this event be a milestone in aviation education as well as law enforcement accountability with respect to aviation. First time, shame on them Mr. and Mrs. King (the Cessna guy in Kansas), second time, shame on you (if you let them slide on this).
Unfortunately, such situations are far too common. I have been the subject of traffic stops merely because I am Muslim. It does not make it any easier when dealing with police officers who leave no doubt that the ONLY reason they suspect you is based solely on religion. It becomes abundantly clear when they start running their mouths about how “ALL Muslims are terrorists” and treat EVERYTHING with suspicion. To make my comment more relevant to the topic…I had in my posession a copy of Flight Simulator. The police looked at it as “highly suspicious.” They had ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE of any nefarious activities on my part or of even nefarious plans on my part. It was SOLELY based on my being Muslim. The police really need to concentrate more on going after REAL criminals then harassing and abusing the innocent.
Hello from Manchester, England (UK),
John & Martha, I was quite shocked to read about your unfortunate arrest whilst airside – I gather that this is because the registration of your aircraft was somehow confused with another aircraft that was stolen, but I am wondering if in some way though, was this a mere smokescreen & could the real reason be possibly & ultimately politically motivated by your efforts to (quite rightly) secure justice for GA pilots in America, where both of you appeared in Congress to end the restrictions on GA flying freedoms…? the way in which you were treated (and even if the police were told the full story, I suspect they chose to ignore certain aspects) there is something very odd about this case – post-9/11, this case does have very serious implications & consequences for GA right around the world, including here in the UK & Ireland & not only that, sets a very dangerous & sinister precedent in terms of law enforcement around the world – it means that even more of our young people worldwide will be discouraged and even prevented from taking up flying as a career – the idea of people taking up flying for fun will eventually become a thing of the past, especially here in the UK, as people will be put off by cases like this – what I find most disturbing about this whole issue is that by restricting freedoms in this way, we allow the terrorists to win and for this to happen is utterly disgraceful – we have a serious airline pilot shortage in many parts of the world and placing these kind of restrictions on GA pilots can only serve to make this situation even worse
John and Martha,
It is indeed most ironic that something of this nature would happen to two of the most well-known people in General Aviation. I’ll bet there were some beet-red faces in Santa Barbara when they realized who they had “busted”. It was good to see that they took some steps to put a friendlier face on Santa Barbara–with their damage control efforts.
It is a credit to both of you that you have chosen to make this a “learning opportunity”–which can be used to improve the way these situations are handled in the future. Thanks for sharing this incredible story. We are with you all the way on this issue. Some changes are certainly needed by our government agencies.
They were fortunate that it was objective people like the Kings.
Most people would have hired and attorney and sued all.
What you did was to create and introduce law enforcement to a better way to deal with a possible problem.
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” ….The registration number on our aircraft, N50545, had been previously assigned to a 1968 C150 that was stolen. According to the owner, the C150 was never found, but the FAA re-assigned the number to our C172 anyway.”
You cannot be serious. The government keeps outdoing itself in the stupidity department. This is truly the dumbest thing of dumb things I’ve seen the government involved with. There are AT LEAST two planes out there in the world with the same registry numbers. What happens if those two planes are in close proximity by chance and receive conflicting ATC clearances that result in a fatality? Is it going to be blamed on pilot error? or controller error? Is the FAA going to step forward and take responsibility and open itself to unlimited liability? This must stop NOW!!!
I just go back from the AOPA conference and thought it was great. You are great speakers and representatives for the aviation community but I disagree with you on this issue. Obviously no one wants to be ordered out of their airplane at gun point, handcuffed and placed in a police car. But it does not appear you were injured or mistreated. Violent criminals are pulled over every day and submit to the police peacefully because the police follow procedure and deomostrate they have control. Sometimes innocent people are pulled over being suspected of a crime but if they follow directions they will be ok, as in your incident. Most of their tactics are versatile for cars, buses, boats and on rare ocassions planes. If a reportedly stolen boat came into a doc and it turned out to be a famous boat racer driving his own boat, would the police now have to conform to a complicated procedure for boats? Everyone laughed at the conference when the police did not know the difference between and Cessna 172 and a Cessna 150. I certainly do not know every Bayliner Boat model out there. Let’s not put more burden on them than they already have.
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Why didnt the airport personnel pick up on the fact it was not the same aircraft? How about checking the aircraft while they were there…no reason to continue if any facts were obtained, Civilian police could have used some help on verifying their facts. The required docs in the aircraft ( aircraft registration, air worthiness certificate and the operating limitations) being checked with the help of airport personnel would have turned this thing around then. Why werent these things checked and verified on site? The GM scenario above works as the police know cars…they likely dont know aircraft. Additionally, there is a document specifically designed for just such an occasion as this, it declares and codifies the intrinsic rights we have as US citizens. Perhaps a copy of the US Constitution should be a required document in the aircraft. A presumption of being innocent until proven guilty. (gets back to the sbpd quickly fact finding) We have allowed that presumption to be erased by our fear. Thank you John and Martha your courses let me take flight!!
Another demonstration that government needs to get out of the “business” of controlling air travel.
You two are very lucky. Cooperation (and not being a threat) no longer ensures survival when all it takes is a LEO who is having a bad day of enforcing counterfeit “laws” on non-appreciative victims to escalate a misunderstanding into a lethal encounter. Of course, the LEO will be excused as “operating within departmental guidelines” since “officer safety” comes before your rights or your life.
I’m sure your survivors would be glad the LEO survived, and without punishment, either way.
John makes an excellent point about how to simplify the situation by waiting for the “suspects” to exit the aircraft before attempting to apprehend them. However, outside the aviation community, people don’t know how things are done. Airport personnel who call the police for assistance, should assume responsibility for providing guidance on how to approach the situation, as it’s not practical to train all police personnel on how to respond to aviation incidents.
That said, the SBPD could use a bit of procedural modification. It may not be reasonable to expect the officers to leave their weapons holstered until (unless) threatened, but they also do not have to train them directly on the subjects. Years ago I was mistaken for an armed robbery suspect by the Milwaukee, WI police. They followed me until I parked my car, then moved in for the apprehension. To make things worse, I was trying to retrieve something from under the passenger seat when police arrived, so they had to order me to show my hands and exit the vehicle. While the 6 or 8 officers present all had weapons at the ready, all weapons were pointed in a safe direction, not directly at me. Had I actually been a criminal and tried to go for a weapon, they could have aimed and fired in less than half a second, but had any weapon discharged accidentally, only the ground or the sky would have been in danger.
No- if the weapon is not trained, once you make the decision to shoot the officer, you will raise your gun and shot him before he can react. it’s not TV.
The FAA has been preaching to us for years that taxiing and take-off and landings are the most dangerous times of a flight. I’m not to crazy about untrained police officers driving their cruisers on ramps and taxiways especially in a raised adrenaline state.
Having local law enforcement as the supreme sanctioning body over an airport is like putting a NFL referee in charge of a NASCAR race. I was always under the impression that it was more about the money. Since our airports receive federal funds, that would make the FAA the sanctioning body over interstate issues such as stolen aircraft. If everyone had that perspective, then the FAA could make the determination if local law enforcement is needed and to what extent (and this probably wouldn’t have happened.)
In a way, I feel sorry for the police involved in this embarassing situation but that doesn’t change my attitude. I still believe they were wrong. Martha elaborated in her interview about the police’s confirmation process for stolen cars and the police claim they followed that process. I’m not seeing it. When I compare the two, this is like confirming a stolen Cutlass then pulling guns on a Cadillac because it’s a GM product. If you can’t distinguish between aircraft models, that’s a clue to keep your gun holstered and ask some more questions. I’m not an attorney but if I was a juror, I’d be siding with the Kings.
John/Martha, I hope you are doing well and I wish you the best of luck. It was terrible that this happened to you. However, because it happened to you, maybe we’re less likely to have it happen to us.
99% of the previous comments are made because of people’s own personal experiences, prejudices or just lack of knowledge. A small percentage of the 99% just seem like idiots based on their comments.
I am a police officer and I am very fluent in aviation. Anybody who has not been a police officer, how can you say that the tactics used in this incident were “overbearing ” and “badge heavy?” Until you have experienced this profession from being in the uniform, you have no basis for how the police should have responded. These tactics for a “high risk” traffic stop were developed and redeveloped over many years after losing many officers lives.
Some of these previous comments like, Glocks fire a lot easier than a revolver, or Police should keep their guns holstered until needed, or like John himself expressed, Let the aircraft park then the police can simply walk right up to the pilot and talk to him. You have got to be kidding me!! I would love to pull over a stolen car, truck or plane, then tell one of you to go up and “talk” to the pilot or driver with your gun holstered. Gee, is that person in the stolen car, truck or plane possibly carrying a gun or knife too? If any of you had police training, you would know how fast suspects can get the upper hand on a police officer. A lot of police officers die every year because they become complacent with people…because the person they just contacted did not look like a drug dealer, a serial killer or just a crazy transient. How many times have you seen on your local TV news a guy/girl that was just arrested for killing his/her whole family? Did he/her look like a killer? If you saw him/her in a crowded mall, would you pick him/her out of the crowd and label him/her as a killer? No you wouldn’t! And neither did SBPD. They did not know the Kings. They were doing exactly as they were trained and it was text book. Their Glocks did not just “go off” (because they are highly trained to keep their trigger finger out of the trigger guard until the choice to use deadly force is made), and SBPD detained them quickly and efficiently.
While I am ranting and raving, some are saying the police used “deadly force.” A police officer pulling out his firearm is not deadly force. On the Force Continuum, pointing a firearm at a suspect is the highest level of police presence. Police presence is the very bottom of the scale on the Use of Force Continuum. Using “deadly force” is exactly that…force used that is deadly.
Was what happened a traumatic experience for the Kings? You bet it was. Being on the business end of a gun is serious business. Did the officers act inappropriately? No they did not. SBPD was performing like they were trained and the way most police agencies in the US are trained. How often is this type of scenario going to take place? And would this incident have made such headlines if the pilot and passenger were not well known in the aviation community? I do not think so.
And since a large majority of people commenting here are offering scenarios of what might have happened if the police did this or that…think of it from our stand point….if by chance the pilot and passenger were not the Kings, but instead a couple of people that did steal an airplane, and when the aircraft landed the two escaped into the SB community, people would ask, Where were the police? How come they did not catch these people? We pay good taxes to have a highly trained police force and they did not catch these two?
To all law enforcements brothers/sisters, keep up the good work protecting and serving the one’s that criticize us the most for doing what we are trained to do. Above all…STAY SAFE.
Paul, As a 17 year veteran Police Officer and a Flight Instructor for 20 years I appreciate your effort, but you most likely will not convince many people. They only see things from their point of view. Stay safe.
OK well then on EVERY vehicle stop there should be several police vehicles and every officer should pull his weapon and everyone should be prone on the ground. After all every vehicle might be stolen and just not reported yet, everyone might be a felon. So because PD life is more important than every one else treat every contact with every citizen as a high risk felony stop and draw down on every one. That is where your logic leads us.
Cops are Cops because they are weak minded and need a power trip….Guns certainly did not need to be drawn.
Mr. & Mrs. King — you are both far too accommodating in your judgments regarding the behavior of the Santa Barbara police.
It is far too easy for those of us who are law-abiding and generally supportive of the police to think that events such as these “can’t happen to us.” But you have both proven that this assumption is false.
The core problem is that our police have come to view themselves as apart from general society, and operate entirely in a “them vs. us” mode. So while it is no wonder that the Santa Barbara police who detained you did so with their high-risk felony stop procedures, the real question should be why those procedures exist in the first place. Few if any situations truly call for the overwhelming firepower deployed every day by local police departments.
Not only should both of you fully expect apologies, you – and all of us – should expect the police to once again become a part of society, and treat us as they would like to be treated. After all, notwithstanding 9/11, they still work for us.
You’re absolutely right!
Good ol’ days of the “community-minded, neighborly, and friendly” LEO have long since evaporated!
Just how many people flying stolen aircraft will file an IFR flight plan? No common sense was used by EPIC or the police department. So stupid it’s scary.
That’s not a judgment for the police- they have to respond the way they get it.
We don’t want to hear anything about this being professional . The police had NO business being there. This should have been handled by the FAA or a federal authority, not some idiot Gestapo police department who know NOTHING about aircraft. This never would have happened if it were done professionally.
We also disagree with the previous comments made by those police advocates. Their lives WERE in danger. Only one itchy trigger finger could have resulted in a death! This NEVER should have happened! They were just tired of busting people who stole surfboards from UCSB.
That’s because you have no inclination about real-life situations and it is obvious by your comments you are already anti-LEO.
Give me a break! You don’t know ANYTHING about me!
Many years ago, I dispatched for the SBPD. I do not recall, either at this agency, or any other, a formal procedures for stopping an aircraft that has been reported stolen. The information came from a reputable, Federal source. Instead of criticizing, look at it from a different perspective, as Scott, above, mentioned. The entire incident was handled professionally. Deadly force was evident, as the situation appeared to merit, on the information received, but at no time were the Kings in danger, as long as they complied with reasonable instructions.
Blame the FAA for the breakdown in the information chain. If the A/C truly had been stolen and things were handled on a much more casual basis, who might have been injured or killed?
Reverse your view…
At any time, those Police Officers could have been in deadly danger themselves. As soon as you get over the fact that it was YOU, and you know that YOU are completely innocent, you will see that the Officers did the right thing.
Thank you Donna.
OK well then on EVERY vehicle stop there should be several police vehicles and every officer should pull his weapon and everyone should be prone on the ground. After all every vehicle might be stolen and just not reported yet, everyone might be a felon. So because PD life is more important than every one else treat every contact with every citizen as a high risk felony stop and draw down on every one. That is where your logic leads us.
If you do not have the backbone for the job if you are so afraid of everyone (the people you are sworn to protect and serve) if your brain is so small and under used where you can not think and adapt to every situation then get the hell out and find another job!
“OK well then on EVERY vehicle stop there should be several police vehicles and every officer should pull his weapon and everyone should be prone on the ground.”
No one said that- you are frothing.
No one is “frothing” just following the logic. Any stop could be a felon so pron them all out. That is where the “scared of there own shadow” attitude of most police leads today. Most PD now days are scared of everything, lazy and believe there ass is more important than everyone else. The standards were lowered years ago and we are paying for it now. Keep in mind that aircraft with that “N” number was stooped previously and it was no big deal. No guns drawn and no treating everyday law abiding folks like they were criminals. The officer in the previous “felony stop” was probably a long time veteran knows his job and can actually use his brain in dealing with people. Not a scared little rabbit like most PD of today. He did his job he went home and the pilot was not treated like a felon. There is risk with the job. If you piss your self every tine you pull on the uniform take your scared little ass someplace else you embarrass the rest of us.
First, I am a pilot and a police officer. Second, I was not there and do not have ALL of the details. Third, I will try not rush to judgement. Here’s what I do know. Please try to read the whole message with an open mind.
The average police officer has little knowledge of the aviation industry. That is not his/her fault. It is just a fact, the same as that many do not know about conducting heart surgery, building a computer, etc. If this had happended at a larger airport that has a dedicated police force at the airport it may have been handled differently because they know more about the industry. You must remember that the aviation industry can de daunting to pilots, try to imagine explaining it to someone who has no idea or experience of how it works.
The information that police officers receive regarding a call can be very limited. It can range from someone screaming at the call taker to “Send the police!!!” and hangs or limited and sometimes conflicting information to decent but still incomplete. The officer does not and will not know the true entire story until they respond and investigate. It is rare that we get ALL the information before we get to the scene. Police officers, unless they are pilots themselves would have no idea what a flight plan is or what information it has. I don’t know how the call was initiated but several people handled the information before it was sent to the officer. What the officer received was the aircraft is reported stolen.
The police officer is trained to stop and approach a stolen vehicle a certain way becasue of the hazards that can be present and the number of officers that have been injured and killed it these situations. They do not know who is operating the vehicle, what their mindset is, and whether they are armed or not. Airplanes like cars can be stolen for a variety of reasons, to escape from the scene of a crime, commit a crime or be an instrument of a crime. Could the plane have been stolen for these reasons or was the airplane hi-jacked? The officer does not know the details, all he knows is that the aircraft has been reported stolen. Becasue of the potential hazards the officer can not relax and assume all will go just fine, too many of us have been killed or injured!!!
Again the average officer does not know about an aircraft and what it needs to operate such as runways, taxiways, etc. All the officer may see is essentially a car with a propeller and wings. Because it is an unusual situation, the officer can only relay on what training he has received.
An officer conducting a stop on a stolen vehicle, will draw their weapon and will point it at the occupants because they do not know who is a bad guy and the good guy and who is armed with a weapon. Sorry but until they know they treat everyone the same. Once everyone is out of the vehicle and the officer can see their hands clearly the weapon will be either pointed at the person or in the direction of the person with the barrel pointed down at an angle (what we call “at the ready”) until they are secured and yes that means that they may be handcuffed. Did the officers in this case use “at the ready”? I hope so, but I will not assume either way beacause I was not there. I do know from experience that some people assume the weapon is being pointed at them when in fact it is at the ready. What you don’t read in the papers is the number of people arrested that are carrying weapons hidden within reach inside the vehicle or on their person and believe it or not they were compliant with the officers, (some admitting that they intended to shot and kill the officer but were never had the opportunity.)
I am sorry that the Kings were faced with this situation. It does occur occasionally across our nation with cars and trucks. Adding the uniqueness of a airplane and its complicated information system did not help. The swiss cheese model was in effect during the incident. The N number should have never been reissued, period. How the Kings aircraft inquiry orignated should be questioned. What caused someone to question the aircraft in the first place? Something happened to cause someone to question it. I am not blaming the Kings, but for some reason a question was raised about the aircraft.
Please try not to blame the officer for be suspicious or overly cautious. They have a tough job dealing the majority of the time with people who commit crimes and would lie and/or hurt the officer in order to get away. Unfortunately we “step on some toes” when we encounter good people in a bad situation. But the officer must make a decision in a second that will be discussed for years. Are you willing to make such a decision and live with it? The blame lies with the multiple layers of information and red tape. REAL technology and information sharing is not as fast or as easy as it appears on T.V. remember, the shows limit the crime solving to 30 minutes or an hour. And again police may not be familiar with aircraft registration procedures and information simply because of its uniquness.
In closing I am willing to assist in the development of training for police officers. I am willing to be part of the solution rather than just offer critism.
Finally, just like introducing aviation to potential pilots or those just interested in aviation by inviting someone along for a flight, I invite everyone to do a ride-a-long with your local police department. Some have a citzen’s police academy. Get a better perspective on their job and you might be surprised that your opinion of the police may change!
At some point you need to use your brain. No problem with getting them out and making sure they are not armed. However every officer (just from looking at the pictures like you say I was not there) with a drawn weapon? After seeing the “suspects” and talking to them it should have deescalated RAPIDITY and it sure appears it did not. One benefit of the Sheriff department is you spend years in the jails dealing with actual criminals and you learn to “read” folks. A skill PD might think about developing. I agree with most if not all of what you say but at some point the little gray cells need to kick in and in this case I think that did not happen till quite late.
Simply because the job of a police officer involves risk does not excuse the deployment of overwhelming firepower. In other words, it is not right for any law enforcement officer to brandish a firearm at another person simply because to do so is “standard procedure.”
Excuses of training and procedure do not absolve anyone. Brandishing a firearm is a felony in virtually every jurisdiction in the United States because pointing a weapon at someone is a very dangerous undertaking. That the person pointing the weapon is an LEO and/or has received training does not in any way mitigate its danger.
An LEO who automatically chooses to brandish a weapon at another citizen has decided that their life is worth more than another’s. That our police employ this technique thousands of times per day tells us that we have allowed our police forces to become a privileged group apart from general society and have allowed them to establish a higher claim to life and liberty than anyone else. Such a situation has no place in a free society.
An individual police officer who claims that he cannot function in his job because his fear of death or injury is so high that he must deploy lethal force whenever he just “doesn’t know” is not fit for duty.
“An LEO who automatically chooses to brandish a weapon at another citizen has decided that their life is worth more than another’s.”
Yes- and rightly so. This is not a case of “brandishing”- the officers had reason tobelieve there was a felony and protected themselves. Don’t like it? Put yourself in that position instead of sitting at your computer being so self-righteous.
I am glad you both came out physically unharmed. You were in a very precarious situation with multiple cops pointing weapons at you. Most carry Glocks or such that are very easy to set off, especially if the finger is on the trigger instead of outside the trigger guard.
Glocks are not like a revolver that has a lot of force and motion before it goes bang.
IOW, one nervous cop, one accidental discharge = all cops shooting at you.
Not sure you noticed but where were their fingers?
They did NOT have probable cause. The guy who said that was dead wrong!! I don’t think that this should be under their jurisdition. It should be ONLY under the authority of the FAA, a FEDERAL authroity. The local police have no business playing Gestapo. They don’t know what they are doing, obviously. I would take them to court, if this happened to my wife and me!
Sorry to hear about this unfortunate incident. John and Martha are genuinely as personable and friendly in person as they are on video. Drawing weapons on what’s considered a “hot stop” is SOP. However, on occasion, circumstances dictate certain allowances or accommodation when there are physical limitations or injuries involving the detainee.
The real problem is a people problem. The FAA employee typing in the info needed to make sure the N# was clear before re-assigning it. The officer/agent who was involved with the first incident 18 months ago should have ensured that the tail number was removed from the database once it was determined he had the right number but wrong aircraft. They didn’t bother. I see this far to often at the federal agency I work for. Yes, sometimes we get busy and overloaded, and small administrative details get overlooked, but small details can have big consequences. It was just shody work on the part of several Fed enforcement guys.
Regards to Bill, Jon, Dan and the crew on the second floor.
As a Santa Barbara resident, I am sickened to see visitors to our humble little airport in paradise treated so rudely. Granted Chief Sanchez and his officers had probable cause, but boredom does not justify excessive force against “suspects” they already found guilty. I hope you both come back one day and see us. Santa Barbara is a great airport, just our authorities seem a tad eager to use guns.
After agreeing with your concern and adrenalin releasing experience, my thought was that you now have a story to go with your Private Pilot course when describing the “attitude indicator” instrument. We’ve been dealing with a lot of police involved shooting in the Seattle area this last week. You’re sure right when advising to be totally compliant with police requests! You and Martha have been my basic training source. I’m sure you will be able to laugh at this – some day.
I bet Mathias Rust was treated better by the KGB when they arrested him as he stepped out of the Cessna at Moscow’s Red Square.
The whole condition of American GA with all this fear mongering, pointless layers of government bureaucracy, and scrambling heavily armed 4th or 5th generation fighter aircraft to intercept Cessnas makes our airspace resemble all the terrible things we were told about the Soviet Union.
Oaths vary from place to place, but the two pillars of virtually every police officer’s oath are to protect and serve citizens and to uphold the Constitution of the United States. A police officer must accept a higher level of risk than an average citizen would before drawing a firearm because this oath comes first – even before personal safety. If you draw a firearm in every encounter to maintain your own personal safety, you are placing your well being above the Constitution of the United States. People who do that are not cut out to serve their community and their country… they are not proud, nor brave. It doesn’t mean they are outright cowards, but it does mean they do not understand the meaning of “Duty.” They are in the wrong line of work.
Unfortunately, this oath is just a formality these days… and it means much less than passing a physical, a multiple choice test, and an associates degree in criminal justice. I am deeply saddened that the two of you were subjected to having guns pointed at you while your hands were bound and being forced around with the very real threat of being killed. Whatever anyone thinks was the cause to do it and whatever justification they may give, it was still a psychological rape and the two of you are survivors. You don’t just have every right to bring these jackbooted thugs to justice… you have a duty. I urge you to sue everyone involved and speak out LOUDLY about this.
BTW – yes, I would prefer if police would keep their weapons holstered until the situation escalated. Everyone talks about how dangerous it is to be a police officer, but it’s more than twice as dangerous to be a roofer. And you don’t hear them using the danger level of their job to justify the threat of lethal force.
Well said. Thank you.
Um…did we forget the officers thought they were responding to a felony in progress? No police officers anywhere are required to place their lives at risk to make someone else feel good.
Dera John and Martha,
I am horrified to hear of the way you were treated.
I hope that the Santa Barabra officials pay for your counselling as this was clearly very traumatic.
Chief Sanchez strikes me as the same kind of monkey that we have had running our own South African Police Service until recently. This is a timely warning for the United States to stop hiring policemen that are illiterate and uneducated.
All the best to both of you.
It is unfortunate that John and Martha had to go through this ordeal. Would you prefer the police don’t pull out their weapons until they are shot at? This is silly to think… I bet you people who are all complaining about the police don’t hesitate to call when you need them. I am sure you don’t complain when they pull their weapons if someone is trying to break into your house or trying to cause harm to you or your family. I am sure the police agency was within their department policy. Not all officers are “inept” in their jobs. The FAA should take responsibilty for the errors in their computers. The police agencies (dispatchers, officers) react to what they are being told. Who is to say if someone on that airplane (not knowing who is on the plane) is armed or not. Sounds like a bunch of monday morning quartbacking going on here.
Yes, this “ordeal” was unfortunate. As a result, police-officials and administrators have officially apologized. To their credit, plans for corrective-action have commenced.
Enforcement-agents pointing deadly-weapons should only do so during hostile, and life-threatening “encounters”. The King’s “encounter” most certainly did not merit such a violent reaction. Administrators have spoken and agree.
POs are human-beings and posses decision-making abilities. To suggest the FAA take full responsibility for a corrupt database is to affirm an inferior understanding of the anatomy of a multi-agency entity. It’s everyone’s responsibility. Also, mentioning “…Not all officers are ‘inept’…” is to imply there are those who are.
Either way, we are all responsible for our personal security. Relying exclusively on police officers for help, aid, assistance, and protection… is abusive and unfair to those who have sworn to uphold the law. It’s just common-sense.
BTW, I don’t play football.
BIG difference in a couple of middle aged folks getting out of a 182 and someone breaking into my house or trying to cause me harm and anyone that cannot see that does not deserve the responsibility that comes with the badge and the gun. No problem with officers protecting them selves, making contact with someone and patting them down to make sure they are not armed. But SBPD went way beyond that and everyone involved should get some unpaid vacation days on the beach.
Even when a friend of mine mistook a lighted prison yard for a suitable helicopter landing site during darkness, he was not handcuffed by prison officials. He explained his fatigue and concern for mountain flying in an unfamiliar area while ferrying the R-22 (2 place) helicopter across the country.
First of all who in the pilot world does not at least know of John and Martha King? Secondly who in a stolen plane is going to file a flight plan?
I think one officer could have easily have checked it out. Reminds me of when the missionary plane was shot down in South America.
Is it safe out there flying?
Police departments almost anywhere in the world are made up of knuckle heads and this incident only proves that. Your relatively phlegmatic reaction to it probably does a disservice to others who may find themselves in similarly situated. I would get as much public exposure – who better than the Kings to garner that – to ensure that the SBPD is censured and rules changed so that PD’s do not have jurisdiction over aviation piracy at least while aircraft and pilots are in the air or on airstrips.
I always knew you two were trouble! Just Kidding of course.
Hope you both are well today! I am sorry to hear about your “Johnny and Clyde” experience. If they could only give this much attention to detail on our southern border. Take care John and Martha. Stay safe!
The stupidity of the Santa Barbara Police can not be underestimated. You rightly point out that, should you really have been in a stolen plane, their procedures would have resulted in a taxi way take off. What would they have done then? Shoot at you, spraying spent bullets on the nearby University? If you had ignored the turn off instructions and turned left, would they have chased after you across an active runway? I am amazed that national media have ignored this story, as it is another example of the changes in mentality of police over the years. They are there to protect us, not the other way around. No, dear policemen, it is not a big joke.
John and Martha,
I am a Commercial Multi-engine instructor/pilot and have received primarily all of my ground training from your courses, so a special thank you to both of you for all of your training. I feel as though I know you guys personally. I feel deeply sad that you guys had to go through this. What a crazy ordeal! I hope and pray that nothing like this were to ever happen to me or any other GA pilots. I pray for the continued success of your business which has help many, many people learn to fly.
Thanks for everything and God Bless,
To the Kings – fortunate that you were not shot. But this incident resembles many avaition accidents in that there is no single cause but a chain of events that led to the ending. But this incident does expose the paranoid, gestapo mindset of all law enforcement in the USA. That chain started the morning of Sep 11, 2001 and goes on unabated under the guise of ‘National Security’.
I concur that a King Schools video in cooperation with rational law enforcement showing how to deal with a suspect avaition incident from the pilot and enforcement perspectives is an obvious need.
But every pilot from ATP to student, current or otherwise, and every person who is in any way supportive of avaition, needs to write a letter to their Congressman and two Senators, NOW!!!! Then call your local legislators to let them know there is a problem with the national law enforcement mindset.
Then support AOPA, ALPA, EAA, et. al. – and the police – to make all this better.
All I want to say thanks for the rush to judgment and condemnation of the police. They have seconds to make decisions and you have days to berate them for it.
I’m a strong advocate for PDs, police, and effective policing but, during the course of many years, most citizens have been perpetually reminded of the overt-hostility, abuse-of-power, and brutality certain LEOs have demonstrated.
So, since police-stories are nothing new… no one has “rushed to judgment and condemnation”. We’ve had many years to ponder the subject.
“Seconds to make decisions” like the BART police that shot and killed a handcuffed man. Drawn weapons are DANGEROUS no matter who is behind them! Common sense and not “I was just doing my job” excuse should rule. No one is a stronger supporter of Law enforcement than me but bad judgment is bad judgment and SBPD are poster children for bad judgment in this instance.
I can’t believe seven people voted thumbs up for Matt’s stupid comment. Remarkable.
Apparently Matt is ok with the shoot first ask questions later policy…..
If you’ll allow me to look on the lighter side – I can see what’s coming next: John and Martha King’s latest training video for Police Departments on how to handle Aircraft and Pilot incidents! Could be a best seller nationwide. Definitely an untapped market.
John and Martha – I am so very sorry that you had to experience this very upsetting and dangerous incident. I am a pilot, student of yours and retired reserve police officer OCSD. All I can think to say is, that since it did happen, you have been called on to make another important contribution to G.A. That is to bring this kind of conduct to light and help correct it. I wish I could have been in your place instead of you. But I am not you and I do not have the resources, knowledge and notoriety to work this. Your efforts for all of us in aviation have been so very much appreciated. Keep up the good work.
That tells all of us that police officers (some) are too quick to react with deadly force. Don’t take me wrong, I respect their work and I believe there’s no money in this world that would compensate for them putting their lives at stake everyday. But why so many guns pointed at two people, one or two while still in the holsters should be enough while the other officers either secure the suspects or make sure everything is ok. So many fatal accidents have happened this way, good example the BART officer shooting an unarmed person.
Dear John and Martha:
First, you’re absolutely right about police interception and how it should be conducted is a serious matter and it doesn’t need to be conducted the way you went through it.
I work line service at a local airport and very recently we did a real ‘remote interception’ because how the pilot was acting and responding to ATC, there was doubt about whether the pilot had actual creditials. The police were called as we don’t have the right to demand the pilot to produce his license and show it, and three patrol cars arrived for the situation. Granted it was almost 11 at night and it was an unusual situation, so everyone on duty (including the shift supervisor) who could showed up. Now in the middle of the night when you have three police cars driving towards you with their flashers on led by an airport truck with its flasher on, it does tend to raise questions by the pilot. HOWEVER….at no time was there any plan of treating the ‘interception’ as a high risk traffic stop. No guns were drawn, and I simply went up to the pilot (still in the aircraft) to explain to him that the ONLY reason the police were there was because they could ask to see his pilot’s license.
The pilot, however, was still somewhat shook up from being isolated out on the taxiway and being the focus point of so much police attention. But at no time were any guns drawn, no one was put into handcuffs, and no arrests were made. It’s true that the police officers that were involved with my ‘interception’ had no training in this kind of thing and they too treated it no different than a traffic stop. But they certainly had the common sense and logic to know that it shouldn’t be treated as a HIGH RISK traffic stop.
As said in the article, ANYONE involved in aviation would have known you by sight in an instant and known something was very wrong with the situation. The fact that it happened to you two, the two most unlikely aircraft thieves in the entire world, gave cause to chuckle until you stop and think about the situation and how things could have been different if it had happened to one of US who aren’t nearly so well known. You weren’t the first, and you weren’t the last, but it’s good that this crack in the sidewalk has been brought to light. I hope that other law enforcement personnel will be woken up to the fact that there’s a problem and try to fix it.
One of the most ridiculous–and sad–things I have ever seen is Martha King climbing out of a Cessna, with her hands in the air, and then handcuffed, being hauled off by a police officer. For crying out loud!!! Yes, the police were “following their procedures,” but their procedures were ridiculous!!!
“El Paso Intelligence Center”
Now that is an oxymoron if I ever heard one. We, the people, need to express our outrage to the proper authorities and make sure this type of thing never happens again. America has always stood for freedom but I wonder if the police understand this with their Nazi mentality.
This was simply a textbook-example of outrageous, inappropriate, and unacceptable handling by Law-Enforcement-Officials!
Understand, I’m an advocate of officer-safety and of the tools in place for effective law-enforcement-action but, where was the common-sense which was nowhere in sight?! Every police-related “situation/encounter” is unique and… should be handled as such!
What ever happened to “Protect and Serve” or in NYC’s case, “Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect”?! Hello… [tapping mic] is this thing on?!
I can’t wait to read about the multiple OFFICIAL administrative-APOLOGIES and their related policy changes from the top… down!
I’m going to call this the “Robocop excuse”… they say they had to follow some training like it was a computer program, when they were drawing weapons! While I’m usually inclined to cut a lot of slack for the difficult jobs that police do for us, there is absolutely no excuse for not using good judgment when using such a strong display of deadly force as was done in this situation. This is the reason for civilian control of government – we have to use our power to curb abuses of police power.
I’ll look for more info on the lessons learned so I can pass them along to the airport staff and police here in San Jose. (I’m an SJC Airport Commissioner.) Hopefully we can make sure to learn from Santa Barbara’s mistakes. I encourage others who are or can become involved in their local airports to do the same.
Hello, the fact that these numerous governmental data bases are not being correctly checked and updated can lead to many troublesome situations. There are numerous such cases with innocent travelers being stuck on the No Fly database. Also this type of incorrect data can lead to motorists and homeowners also facing officers with drawn guns. There needs to be much stricter controls on the law enforcement display and use of guns. THIS IS PARTICULARLY A PROBLEM FOR HANDICAPPED PEOPLE WHO CANNOT GET OUT OF AN AIRCRAFT OR CAR WITH THEIR HANDS UP. I PERSONALLY HAVE THIS PROBLEM. SO AM I GOING TO BE SHOT BECAUSE I HAVE TO USE MY HANDS TO GET OUT OF A CAR OR AIRPLANE.
What has become of our fine Nation where we have to be afraid of being shot for the innocent activity of travel? Frankly, if the incident had happend to me, I would have taken it to court. Evidently, security bureaucracies will only listen to a very strong message of legal action. (cc. to Craig Fuller, AOPA and to the EAA)
Hi John and Martha,
I feel very sorry for your unfortunate ordeal our “Big Brother.” This is another example of police overreacting with inaccurate information. I hope the SBPD publicly apologies to you and the entire flying community for their “meat headed” behavior.
Keep hope alive!
Hi john and martha, wow what a weird thing to happen to you guys. How silly of something to occur!!
I have FS2004 and srill loove watching you guys explain how things work. Its great.
Hope you guys are ok!!
Darren In Canada
We just heard that you are helping the police dept to better deal with the situations concerning purportedly stolen aircraft. We would have sued them! We don’t feel that aircraft issues should be under the purview of any police department, but the FAA only.
These people are totally incompetent, and have a Gestapo-type mentality.
My wife and I used to fly to KSBA all the time when we lived in San Diego, in our Grumman Tiger. If this happened to us we probably would quit flying! But we would definitely sue for this outrageous overreaction and violation of your rights. You two could have been killed..
Hi John & Martha.
Totally agree with you. A bit heavy-handed to say the least.
I don’t think this would happen in Australia.
Guns stay holstered unless you produce a gun as well which I am sure you didn’t.
I’m a student pilot down under and a have learned a great deal from your videos
I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. While the police may have just been “doing their jobs,” the question is whether the correct procedure is being applied to the situation at hand.
Your assertion that drawing guns on people is dangerous business should be taken literally. It’s not unheard of for an officer to accidentally fire a gun after drawing it. (Here’s a recent example.)
Luckily, this situation ended with no physical harm done.