Police Patrol Strategies: Aviation Unit

The first recorded use of law enforcement aviation occurred in January of 1914 in Miami, Florida. A jewelry theft occurred at the Miami Royal Palms Hotel and the suspect was on a steamboat off shore on the Atlantic coast of Florida. Two Miami detectives along with their pilot flew out to the steamboat using a modified Curtiss Model F flying boat. The flying boat landed near the steamer and taxied up so the detectives could off load onto the steamer, arrest the suspect, recover the stolen jewelry, and then fly back to Miami with the secured suspect along with the recovered stolen jewelry.

Police aviation units started in 1918 by the New York City Police Department with the police commissioner collaborating with Aero Club of New York to conduct part-time patrols on weekends using fixed wing biplanes to monitor the city from the sky.

In 1929, New York City Police established the first police aviation unit with two-fixed wing biplanes.

Modern Police Aviation

Today’s law enforcement use both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft (helicopters) for public safety operations.

Police aviation units perform the following duties:

  • Homeland Security/Counterterrorism
  • Surveillance (film and photograph)
  • Drug Location/Interdiction
  • Fugitive Searchers (thermal imagery camera equipment)
  • Patrol Support (direct ground units, thermal imagery camera equipment)
  • SWAT Operations
  • VIP Protection
  • Traffic Enforcement
  • Firefighter/Life Support (Air Ambulance)
  • Prisoner Transport
  • Search/Rescue (thermal imagery camera equipment)

The Future of Police Aviation

The use of the police aviation is expensive; however, the necessity and versatility that police helicopters bring to making our communities safer is worth the cost.

The use of small-unmanned drone aircraft capable of relaying real-time video imagery is being experimented around the country by law enforcement.

This new technology brings challenges to policy and lawmakers as to how to govern and regulate the use of unmanned drone aircraft; however, the possibilities that law enforcement will be able to harness this technology to make our communities safer is becoming a reality.

About the Author

Mark Bond

Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms instructor for more than 33 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in criminal justice, and M.Ed in educational leadership with Summa Cum Laude honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education (EdD) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.