Service Before Self, Honor Above All

Aviation Unit

The Arlington Police Department Aviation Unit operates a small unmanned aerial system, one of many public safety tools available to officers in an ongoing effort to keep Arlington residents and visitors safe. This web page has been developed to provide information about the Aviation Unit and its  small unmanned aerial system.

What is the purpose of the Aviation Unit?

The Aviation Unit is comprised of fourteen specially-trained police officers from various areas of the department.  They are trained to use the  Small Unmanned Aerial System or sUAS in a variety of public safety operations such as helping to find missing individuals, searching for suspects who are actively fleeing from the police and providing assistance in assessing damages and losses from natural disasters.  The sUAS can also be used to take forensic photographs of complex crime scenes. Officers cannot use this small device in vehicle pursuits or to help with traffic citations. It will not carry weapons of any kind nor will it be used for routine patrols and surveillance.

What are the specifications of the equipment being used by the Aviation Unit?

The Aviation Unit operates a system called the DJI Mavic Pro. It is a battery-operated quadcopter, which carries a consumer grade camera. Each aircraft system weighs 1.6 pounds. The officer pilot uses a handheld control device, which relies on radio telemetry to control the aircraft, capture images and record video. The sUAS has onboard safety systems, including a “return to home” mode if the system loses contact with the officer pilot or it runs low on battery power.  This new model replaces the larger unmanned aerial system purchased with federal grant funds in 2013.

When and where can the system fly?

The sUAS can operate anywhere within the geographic boundaries of the city limits of Arlington. Pilots must coordinate flights in accordance with the local governing air space manager. The sUAS must be flown within visual line of sight of the officer pilot. Once a defined incident perimeter has been established, the officer pilot can launch the aircraft.

Why purchase small aerial systems instead of larger, more commonly used helicopters?

For law enforcement agencies, smaller unmanned aircraft technology provides an alternative to traditional aviation. Unmanned or remotely piloted aircraft systems are much cheaper to own and operate than traditional fixed-wing planes and piloted helicopters. In 2017,  thanks to the members of the Arlington Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association, funds were raised and six new small unmanned aircraft systems were purchased for the Arlington Police Department Aviation Unit.

Who makes the final decision on whether the sUAS is used?

The Arlington Police Department has established specific procedures for when and how the small unmanned aerial system can be used. All flights are pre-approved by a designated Aviation Unit Officer.  A Notice to Airmen is also issued through the Federal Aviation Administration to alert other pilots in the area.

Will my privacy be impacted?

Maintaining an individual’s privacy and protecting the civil liberties of all persons is of paramount importance to the Arlington Police Department. The department is bound by federal law and the laws of the State of Texas that direct search and seizures. The small unmanned aerial system is no different than the police officer in an elevated position. In order for a police officer to be present and searching for someone or something, the officer must have a search warrant or a judicially- recognized exception to a search warrant. The same requirements apply to the operation of the sUAS.

For more information about the Arlington Police Department  Aviation Unit,  send email  to PDUAS@arlingtontx.gov.