SPOKANE, Wash. -

It's a powerful weapon in the war on crime and now Spokane's been recognized for using the Sheriff's Air 1 helicopter better than anyone else.

Last weekend, Spokane Deputy Jeff Thurman was named the Tactical Flight Officer of the Year by the Airborne Law Enforcement Association.

Air 1's most valuable tool is a powerful camera that targets crooks both day and night.

On June 19th, 2012, a pair of sheriff's deputies were shot by a wanted heroin dealer and as the suspect tried to make his getaway in a stolen, black Honda, Air 1 joins the pursuit with Deputy Jeff Thurman manning the camera.

"You're in an aerial platform and it's very easy to pick out a vehicle that's driving very recklessly, going into oncoming traffic actually splitting through the center of two cars," said Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy Craig Chamberlin.

As Air 1 was pacing Charlie Wallace as he headed north, Thurman was able to call the pursuit and direct additional officers to the area.

"When you're a tactical flight officer and it's a pursuit situation, you take command of the entire incident. Why? Because you have an elevated platform. You can see what oncoming traffic is like. You can tell the deputies or pursuing officers 'Back off, here's what's coming up,' and it really makes it safe not just for our guys but the community as well," Chamberlin said.

Thurman is also particularly good at catching crooks during foot pursuits.

Without Air 1's infrared camera, this suspected car thief would have escaped in the darkness.

"It's a great tool because it senses heat so we don't have to light to see objects on the ground... All we're seeing is heat signatures," said Deputy Brandon Armstrong.

Fortunately the Sheriff's Office isn't selfish with its helicopter. You can't see city boundaries or even statelines from the air... so tactical flight officers go wherever crime takes them.