TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) —  Tuscaloosa Police are taking steps to protect shoppers during the Christmas holiday season. Police helicopter pilots are busy flying in the skies above shopping centers and stores to make sure everyone is safe.

TPD pilot Jarrett Ivey says the operation is called “Shopper Chopper.” TPD’s aviation unit is comprised of four helicopters and five pilots. Each aircraft is equipped with night vision, heat-sensitive cameras and bright spotlights.

“Having helicopters is another tool for the police department,” Ivey said. “It gives us another tool from up above for what’s going on in the shopping area parking lots and if there’s anything we see, we can radio down to the ground units.”

Pickens County resident Frank Duren is glad the force helicopters are watching out for criminals who might try to steal from shoppers. Duren spent Friday morning gift shopping with his daughter at Best Buy at Midtown Village.

“I think it’s a good idea. Crime is up this year and I have friends in law enforcement and I trust them all,” Duren said. “Tuscaloosa PD has a good supply of helicopters and great pilots to fly them and I appreciate them keeping us safe out here for the Christmas season.”

The “Shopper Chopper” program launched on Thanksgiving and will be in operation until Christmas Day.TPD has been doing this operation for 20 years and makes a number of criminal arrests every year.