One of the most valuable of these asset classes is aircraft. The law enforcement authorities are increasingly turning to their ‘eyes in the sky’ to perform many of the functions that are required to keep citizens safe and secure – and to keep government functioning so that it can deliver on its mandate. However – it is not only observation that makes these aircraft such a valuable asset. Using both rotor and fixed-wing aircraft allows law enforcement personnel to react far more quickly to situations where ‘boots on the ground’ may be required.
So, which airborne assets have proven their worth when it comes to law enforcement and how are they being used?
Fixed Wing Aircraft
Let’s first look at fixed-wing aircraft. Although Hollywood has tended to create the impression that that helicopters steal the glory as far as law enforcement is concerned, the use of fixed-wing aircraft is widespread. There are a number of reasons for this. They boast better loiter capabilities (estimates indicate that typically many fixed-wing aircraft can loiter for over 7 hours compared to an average of around 2.5 hours for a helicopter) and can cover more ground than rotary aircraft.
The fact that they can also operate at higher altitudes makes them the ideal platform for surveillance. Often criminals do not even realize that they are being observed from these platforms – and that makes them incredibly stealthy. Range and carrying capacity are also an issue.
Fixed-wing aircraft provide options including long-distance capability and the option to carry more cargo, such as surveillance gear and cameras, compared to many helicopters currently in use by civil law enforcement.
The sheer variety of the types of aircraft available also makes them the ideal complement to the use of helicopters. Many of the variants used by law enforcement are modified versions of civilian aircraft – such as those manufactured by Cessna. Cost is also a factor. The reduced operating costs of fixed-wing aircraft makes them an ideal choice for many law enforcement operations – especially where long distances need to be covered, such as in search and rescue operations where fixed-wing aircraft have proved their worth time and time again.
So why do law enforcement agencies even use rotary aircraft such as helicopters? The answer is fairly self-evident. These aircraft do not require runways and can provide stable platforms and the ability to land in places where fixed-wing aircraft simply cannot go. They can get personnel into situations in urban areas (and in remote areas where infrastructure does not exist) and they can perform airborne rescue where hovering function is necessary to extract individuals and groups that are in situations that require immediate evacuation.
Law enforcement agencies have increased their effectiveness by carefully balancing their budgets and requirements and selecting aircraft which are suitable for the task at hand. The balance between the various types of aircraft they operate is essential in ensuring their continued success.