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Officers Dan Lowry & Nick Ishii: Love for Flying Enhances Public Safety

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Patrolling the city of Stockton, officers Dan Lowry and Nick Ishii make their rounds deterring crime. But unlike other officers whose jurisdiction is catered to specific neighborhoods, these men cover a larger region and at a much higher elevation. As the first aviation unit for Stockton Police Department, Falcon One-Zero, the city’s patrolling helicopter, covers a wide area. Yet Lowry and Ishii will be the first to admit their job is far from being above others; rather their role is to support additional eyes on the ground. “We try to provide assistance to the officers to do their job safely,” says Ishii.

Patrolling from the sky is a complex process, and as Chief Pilot Lowry acknowledged, it’s been the theme from the inception of the program, while also gratifying and rewarding. “I have the best job in the world,” he said. Established in 2018 under Sergeant Richard Buckley’s supervision as the chief tactical flight officer, the program took flight when former Police Chief Eric Jones lobbied the program to the state. With growing crime in the Stockton region, Jones was successful in acquiring a $3 million grant from Governor Jerry Brown to put forth a new air unit that serves as a force multiplier, as Lowry put it. “It’s like having so many more officers on the street. I can be there in two minutes. We can provide safety for the officers as well as the citizens.” One of the benefits to Falcon One-Zero is the ability to assist other officers in their placement with on-ground patrol. Just in the last few years, the unit has reduced the number of high-speed chases, helped locate missing persons at risk and helped locate a suspect quicker.

Starting with a Strong Foundation
But the start of the program had its challenges. Not just anyone could sign up or train for the air unit. A great amount of time, prior experience and skill would be needed for the program to get off the ground. Thus, Sergeant Buckley turned to Officer Dan Lowry to lead the unit. “People were looking to me for the decision making. There couldn’t be any mistakes or anything to go wrong,” recalled Lowry, whose credentials in police work and aviation would prove right for the job.

In 1990, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and completed tours in the Gulf War. In 1997, he returned home to begin a career with the Stockton Police Department as a motor officer and, later, on the SWAT team. But it wasn’t until after the September 11, 2001, attacks that Lowry reenlisted in the military for the National Guard. Here he attended flight school and graduated as a Blackhawk pilot. In 2011, he was deployed to Iraq, where he flew out of Balad, Iraq, for a year. After his deployment, he started flying UH-72 Lakotas out of Stockton Airport and worked toward his goal as an instructor pilot. Becoming an instructor pilot through the military allowed him to get his civilian rating as a flight instructor. Still active in both the National Guard and the police force, Lowry had the advantage of both worlds.

With this high-pressure, no-mistakes project, Lowry would be responsible for establishing a standard for the program. If the department were to continue with such a unit, he had to get it right. “There was a lot at stake to make the program seamless,” he said. Lowry knew that selecting an aircraft of the right caliber was of the utmost importance. With the help of Buckley and Jones, the three narrowed their choice to a Bell 505 Jet Ranger X helicopter for their mission. But selecting an aircraft was the easy part; retrieving and creating a solid protocol would be more challenging. To transport the helicopter, Buckley and Lowry traveled to Quebec, Ontario, Canada, and flew the aircraft back on their own. Learning the features of the helicopter would take some time, and they found that the weather forced them to learn quickly. “There was a polar vortex at the time,” recalled Lowry. “It was scary but we were able to get it to Carlsbad, California, where the aircraft was outfitted with police equipment.” A week after the landing and installation of new equipment, they were ready to build the unit.

Lowry and Jones chose the name Falcon One-Zero for the helicopter. While Jones had selected the name Falcon, Lowry had chosen One-Zero since it’s also part of his call sign, Shadow One Zero. Even more sentimental was the registration number N1116S. The N is a nationality designator for the United States but the 1116 stood for Jones’ badge number and the S was the initial for Shirley, the name of Lowry’s late mother who passed away several years ago. “She was my biggest supporter,” said Lowry.

Creating a Soaring Team
To establish a developed model, Lowry attended trainings through the Los Angeles Police Department for guidance in setting up an air unit. During his visits he came across the well-known phrase, “To those who are given much, much is expected.” The quote resonated with him so much that it became the motto for Falcon One-Zero and it’s displayed on a banner inside the hangar.
Lowry began to establish protocols for safety and consistency. He would create fly drills and patrol routes, but the difficulty came with experience and support. As the only pilot in the unit at the time, this made the pressure even higher for him. “It’s kind of a niche career field. Anyone can fly an aircraft, but not everyone has that aviator sense and you have to think about different things of what’s going on in the air. You can’t have a mistake. You can’t hit the curb and check the tire; you have to do it right,” he said. He knew the arrangement could be temporary, and he began to enlist more help from the department. “I didn’t ride my dirt bike for almost three years because I didn’t want to break my arm. There’s no one else to fly,” he said in reflection.

By 2022, more officers were brought in and the team expanded to four tactical flight officers. or TFOs, and two pilots. Officers Nick Ishii and Sean Ross joined the team. Ishii, who joined in June 2022, brought some experience from his time in the Marine Corps. Lowry began to train Ishii as a TFO and soon after started him piloting. “It took several months of very intense training,” recalled Lowry. “It takes a lot of time to get them to fly the aircraft by themselves and do it safely.” And now Ishii’s position has opened more flexibility with the unit. “I enjoy and love flying; it’s great to have an opportunity to be a police officer and to be able to fly. You can’t beat that,” said Ishii.

Success Flying High
With a larger team, the unit has recently expanded to patrol seven days a week. Current Police Chief Stanley McFadden is a huge supporter of the program. “He’s definitely done a lot for us. He understands the need for an air unit. That’s been a huge boost for us,” affirmed Lowry. Falcon One-Zero has provided additional safety for the officers on the ground, the ability to respond quickly in the air and to give updates to officers who are dispatched quickly.

“The community has been very positive about the success of Falcon One-Zero,” said Lowry proudly. “They feel safer when they hear the aircraft flying overhead. That’s the whole point of being here.” Lowry acknowledged that the support is important and that they are doing this not only for the citizens but also for the department. “The officers are my customers. If I’m not helping them, then there’s no point in us existing.”

Looking to the future, Stockton’s air unit hopes to expand and obtain an additional aircraft, but that might be a few years down the road. In the meantime, Falcon One-Zero continues to elevate
the community.