Law Enforcement Organizations Use of Airborne Assets

Law enforcement organizations use rotary and fixed wing aircraft on missions that are designed exclusively to achieve department goals as they relate to community service and officer safety. A typical LEO aircrew consists of one Command Pilot (CP) and one Tactical Flight Officer (TFO). The aircrew monitors citywide police radio frequencies, they respond to calls for service and make aerial observations based on their experience as police officers. In effect, these missions can be thought of as a patrol car in flight. Thus, the mission is the same, only the vehicle has changed.

Using fixed and rotary wing aircraft have become critical to narcotics investigations and has been a significant contributor to the seizure of contraband with an estimated valued in the billions of dollars.

A study commissioned by NASA and conducted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Space Technology Applications Office confirmed the study and report findings as follows:

  • The number of Part 1 or Index Property Crimes are reduced when airborne assets are deployed overhead.
  • The number of arrests associated with radio calls is three times higher with the involvement of LEO aircrews.
  • Citizens accept helicopter patrols as a necessary part of the police system and strongly favor their continuation.
  • Department ground based officers universally support a strong airborne law enforcement program.

Airborne operations are a “Force Multiplier,” enabling a smaller work force to complete assigned and assumed tasks.


Benefits of the airborne department include more ground-based officers available for assignment, increased productivity and personal well being and reduction of liability claims against the governing local, state and federal supporting organizations. A coordinated, well funded air support department are comprehensive and provide assistance to nearly every facet of the operation:

When utilizing a LEO airborne aircrew over the scene:

  • Fewer ground-based officers are required at crime scenes and perimeters.
  • Ground-based officers have a significantly increased sense of security.
  • Ground-based officers are kept in tactical advantage and out of questionable situations.
  • Vehicle pursuit management is positive, direct and reduces associated liabilities.
  • Ground-based officer injuries and deaths are significantly reduced.

Increased effectiveness across all LEO divisions:

  • Department field operations, especially geographic patrol divisions.
  • Tools such as a satellite/GPS moving map display, with video taping and downlink capabilities used for not only catching criminals but also for locating physical evidence.
  • Serving Immediate needs of specialized entities: Metro K-9 Unit, Bomb Squad, Underwater Dive Unit, The Mounted unit, Robbery/Homicide command staff and officer transport to crime scenes, priority photo reconnaissance.
  • Assisting with Emergency Operations Command Control Center when responding to major disasters through the use of satellite and GPS tracking and communications for maintaining situational awareness of the air assets in operation.