U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

High Price of a Bird's Eye View: Making the Most Out of an Aerial Unit

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 37 Issue: 2 Dated: February 2010 Pages: 8,10,12,14
Jonathan Kozlowski
Date Published
February 2010
5 pages
This article describes ways in which law enforcement aerial units can be more cost-effective, using examples from the Metro Air Support Unit of the St. Louis County (MO) Police Department and the Air Support Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, both of which respond to a large area's day and night calls.
Despite any geographic differences, the two support units use similar basic tools for sighting suspects, mapping, and communications. The technology used includes a search spotlight, a forward-looking infrared system, a moving map system, a global positioning system (GPS), and technologies that assist the tactical flight officer (TFO). One issue that must be addressed in both areas is radio communications from aerial units to on-ground commanders. A significant problem has been the sharing of news media and aerial unit radio frequencies. The Los Angeles agency is in the process of upgrading its air fleet to a higher megahertz frequency that enables law enforcement personnel and the media to communicate on separate frequencies. The St. Louis unit is currently researching a system that uses a microwave downlink system to communicate information air-to-ground. No matter how high-tech the equipment used by aerial units, however, having the right persons in the cockpit can make all the difference in the effectiveness of aerial units. Los Angeles has an extensive initial and continuing training program for pilots and TFOs. Pilots start with a 200-hour course, and TFOs have a 4-month training program. The trainee must pass an additional 3 months of on-the-job instruction. Continuous training consists of learning how to use upgraded equipment, a TFO "check ride" every 6 months with the chief TFO, and a pilot "check ride" every 90 days in order to demonstrate the ability to operate the aircraft in normal and emergency situations.