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Mission Equipment: What Police Operators Want

By By Ernie Stephens | December 1, 2011

This Howard County (Md.) Police helicopter is typical of many Bell 407s equipped for police work. Under its belly are a nose-mounted video/forward-looking infrared camera system, a digital downlink antenna mounted amidships, and an aft-mounted searchlight. Photos by Ernie Stephens

Next to helicopters that are used for air medical operations, no other non-military rotorcraft feature as much special mission equipment as law enforcement helicopters do. What began with an officer hanging out the door of a Bell 47 with a pair of binoculars and a hand-held radio in the 1960s has now become a high-tech man-and-machine system with an impressive array of equipment. From forward-looking infrared to radios capable of communicating on thousands of frequencies, the choices of what to equip a helicopter with are nearly endless.

Rotor & Wing checked in with several law enforcement outfits to see what they were flying, and how their ships were equipped. The below agencies were representative of the average city, county, state and federal departments that provide services to diverse communities across the U.S.


Of course, larger police departments with bigger budgets have more equipment, but the size of the fleet and the quality of the equipment load-out were also driven by the crime rate in that jurisdiction. (It’s just a fact of life that the fewer the problems, the lower the priority to fund police operations in general, and airborne assets in particular.) Add those factors to fluctuating financial resources, public interest, and the ever-changing political climate, and any inspection of a department’s helicopter fleet will be, at best, only a here-and-now snapshot.

With that said, the following is a quick look at seven police helicopter operations, and their airborne law enforcement assets.

Fairfax County Police

With one Bell 407 in the hangar and two Bell 429s due for delivery by January 2012, the Fairfax County Police in Northern Virginia cover an area of 407 square miles just west of Washington, D.C., plus provide medevac services to critically injured citizens. The crew’s new aircraft will be equipped as follows:

• Police Radios: Technisonic TDFM 7000 and TFM 550

• Forward-Looking Infrared: L3 Wescam MX10

• Searchlight: Trakkabeam M800

• Moving Map: Aerocomputers

• Night Vision Goggles: ITT 4949 Pinnacles

Honolulu Police

Operating one MD520N and one MD500E, the Honolulu Police work a variety of patrol missions in a geographic environment that includes everything from ocean shoreline to lush, green mountains. With just five aviators, the Helicopter Section finds the following equipment a reasonable fit for their purposes:

• Police Radios: Ericsson Digital Trunking

• Forward-Looking Infrared: FLIR 7000

• Searchlight: Spectrolab SX-16

• Moving Map: Aerocomputers

• Night Vision Goggles: ITT 4949 Pinnacles

Las Vegas Metro Police

According to the popular travel ads, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But while it’s happening, the Las Vegas Metro Police will be keeping an eye on it from one of its airborne assets, which consists of a Bell 407, two Bell HH 1H Hueys, and four MD Helicopter MD500Fs. The unit’s mission equipment includes:

• Police Radios: Harris Open Sky

• Forward-Looking Infrared: Stark Aerospace POP300

• Searchlight: Spectrolab SX-16

• Moving Map: MetaMap

• Night Vision Goggles: ITT Pinnacles

Today’s modern police helicopter has an impressive array of equipment. The large color monitor on the left side of this Texas Department of Public Safety Eurocopter AS350B3 can display images from its L-3 Wescam video camera (shown) and forward-looking infrared, or its Aerocomputers moving map system.

Mass. State Police

With three Eurocopter AS355N Twin Stars and one EC135 flying out of three bases around the region, the Massachusetts State Police is the only police agency in the U.S. that routinely patrols in twin-engine helicopters. Their crews use the following mix of technology:

• Police Radios: Technisonic TDFM 7300

• Forward-Looking Infrared: one Star Sapphire and one Star Sapphire HD

• Searchlight: Spectrolab SX-16

• Moving Map: Aerocomputers

Metro Nashville Police

Serving the undisputed home of American country music, the Metro Nashville Police patrol 528 square miles of city and waterways aboard two MD Helicopter MD500Es, four Bell OH-58s and one McDonnell-Douglas OH-6. The fleet is equipped with the following gear:

• Police Radios: Technisonic 648

• Forward-Looking Infrared: FLIR 8500

• Searchlight: Spectrolab SX-5

• Moving Map: Avalex

Texas Department of Public Safety

With the second largest state in the U.S. to serve, it comes as no surprise that the Texas DPS has 15 bases located across more than 268,000 square miles of both densely populated and urban territory. The fleet consists of 14 Eurocopter AS350s, one EC135 and six Bell 206Bs. The most common equipment load-out is as follows:

• Police Radios: Technisonic TDFM 6000, TDFM 7000, and Motorola XTS 5000

• Forward-Looking Infrared: L-3 Wescam DS and TS series

• Searchlight: Spectrolab XS-16 (some with in-flight change-over NVG filters)

• Moving Map: Aerocomputers

• Night Vision Goggles: ITT 4949 Pinnacles

U.S. Park Police

The U.S. Park Police, one of the oldest uniformed federal police agencies in the country, provides airborne law enforcement and medevac services for all federal parks and parkways in the greater Washington, D.C., area. Its crews, however, can be also be deployed to incidents hundreds of miles in any direction. The Aviation Division is also the primary airborne police and medical platform for the White House and Congress. With two Bell 412s and one Bell 206L based less than two miles from the U.S. Capitol, the agency’s blue and white aircraft carry the following, plus a few secret national security items:

• Police Radios: Wulfsberg (now Cobham) RT5000/C5000

• Forward-Looking Infrared: FLIR 8500

• Searchlight: Spectrolab SX-16

• Moving Map: Aerocomputers

• Rescue Hoist: Goodrich

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