TOM HAYS
Associated Press
May 23, 2008

NEW YORK – On a cloudless spring day, the NYPD helicopter soars over the city, its sights set on the Statue of Liberty.

A dramatic close-up of Lady Liberty’s frozen gaze fills one of three flat-screen computer monitors mounted on a console. Hundreds of sightseers below are oblivious to the fact that a helicopter is peering down on them from a mile and a half away.

“They don’t even know we’re here,” said crew chief John Diazo, speaking into a headset over the din of the aircraft’s engine.

The helicopter’s unmarked paint job belies what’s inside: an arsenal of sophisticated surveillance and tracking equipment powerful enough to read license plates — or scan pedestrians’ faces — from high above the nation’s largest metropolis.

Police say the chopper’s sweeps of landmarks and other potential targets are invaluable in helping guard against another terrorist attack, providing a see-but-avoid-being-seen advantage against bad guys.

“It looks like just another helicopter in the sky,” said Assistant Police Chief Charles Kammerdener, who oversees the department’s aviation unit.

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