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What Do Police Helicopters Do?

Helicopters have more functions than many people realize, and this includes helping the police force do its job better. Although they may seem insignificant or off the radar, helicopters truly play an important role in the police force’s duty to serve and protect. You have probably seen a police helicopter circling your neighborhood, and wonder what it might be doing there. Hopefully I can shed some light on this topic today.

What Do Police Helicopters Do?

From basic surveillance to search-and-rescue missions and even photo shoots, the helicopter can save the average police department a lot of time when it comes to certain tasks. Just what are police helicopters looking for in some of these tasks? Everything from disaster victims to suspects, and a whole lot more!

Fun and Not-So-Fun Tasks

Police departments can save both time and money, not to mention a lot of lives, when they utilize helicopters to do their jobs. For instance, basic surveillance is much easier with a helicopter because let’s face it, no one can get away from one of these flying machines.

Although helicopters can be expensive to utilize, there is nothing quite like them when it comes to certain jobs. One of the main reasons to use helicopters is during a natural disaster when people who are missing need to be located and rescued, which is a perfect task for a helicopter.

Travis county EMS Rescue Helicopter
Editorial Team Travis county EMS Rescue Helicopter

Helicopters can help find suspects, especially if they are used in conjunction with a spotlight and thermal imaging equipment. In addition, if they are attached by a harness and leaning out the door of the helicopter, they are in the perfect position to take great pictures.

If someone is in a car and the police are chasing him, helicopters can more quickly and easily find the car so that the police won’t lose it, saving the police force a lot of grief and even more time in the long run. This can also make police chases a lot less dangerous for both the police and the driver.

Pennsylvania State Police Helicopter
Editorial Team Pennsylvania State Police Helicopter

Helicopters can also read license plate numbers a lot easier than surrounding cars can, which means they can often find a criminal due to the number on the license plate. This, along with other tasks, is a great time-saver, allowing the police to complete the task in a timely fashion.

Modified Helicopters Make a Difference

Of course, police helicopters are generally quite different than your standard helicopters are. For one thing, they are usually equipped with surveillance cameras, night vision, special radio systems, forward looking infrared (FLIR) cameras, teargas dispensers, and searchlights, among other things.

Delaware State Police Bell 407 helicopter
Editorial Team Delaware State Police Bell 407 helicopter

This can also include items such as flashing light beacons, loudspeaker systems, and even special seating in some cases. It is even possible for the same helicopter to be used as both an air ambulance and a search-and-rescue copter, which is why they need to be so well-stocked.

Police departments usually choose either a military surplus helicopter such as the Bell UH-1 Huey or the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, which is a newer type of military helicopter. They normally either lease them from specialty suppliers or buy them from major aircraft companies.

Other Tasks Are Equally Important

Finding missing persons is a very important function of police helicopters, and because they can fly over a large area quickly and safely, it can take them very little time to get the job done. They can also be used for medevac purposes or even to keep news helicopters from getting too close to the scene of a crime.

Just what are police helicopters looking for when you see them roaming around in the air? It isn’t always easy to tell because you’d need a police scanner and a way to decipher the local police code to know for sure. They could be looking for a suspect, a missing person, or even someone who needs to be rescued.

United States Park Police helicopter
Editorial Team United States Park Police helicopter

You can always call the police department on the non-emergency number or listen to a radio or television news program to find out what’s going on, but suffice to say there are numerous tasks that might be involved when you see a police helicopter in action.

Police departments use discretion when choosing to use helicopters because they can be expensive tools for them to use. There is also the risk of a helicopter crashing, although the number of lives saved has so far exceeded the number of people killed when these crashes occur.

Recent Developments

One of the most recent developments is the replacement of police helicopters with military drones, which is proving to be more reliable in some circumstances. This is certain to change the way citizens, their cities, and police departments interact with one another.

police helicopter
Editorial Team police helicopter

This isn’t likely to take place anytime soon, however, because the FAA still hasn’t set requirements for unmanned flights like the ones being accommodated by drones. Once the FAA updates these requirements, however, military drones could be used in numerous situations in cities all over the country.

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For now, this isn’t likely to occur until the year 2025 or later, but it is almost certain to make many of the police department’s tasks a lot simpler.

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