Houston Police Department Helicopter Aviation
One of the top three largest police helicopter fleets in the nation
The Houston Police Department's air support division is quickly set to become the second largest municipal police air support unit in the country, with LAPD still holding the top spot.
Houston's helicopter division will be celebrating it's 40th anniversary of airborne law enforcement in 2010. The unit was first formed in 1970 with three leased Schweizer 269B helicopters. Since that time Houston has flown almost exclusively Schweizer or MD helicopters, (you probably recall that the Schweizer 300 and the MD500 both came from the same line of Hughes helicopters.)
For many years the Houston Police Air Support Unit has operated 4 MD500E turbine powered helicopters, 3 Schweizer 300 piston powered helicopters- used primarily for training, and 2 Schweizer 333 turbine powered helicopters. They also own and operate one Cessna 182 airplane.
In 2008 MD Helicopters and the Houston Police Department announced that the department would be purchasing 8 new MD500E helicopters. In addition to the new MD 500s, the department also recently ordered 3 new Schweizer 300 helicopters for training. When all the aircraft are delivered the unit will stand at 16 total helicopters and 1- fixed wing. LAPD stands at 17 helicopters.
Why so many helicopters in Houston?
Houston is the largest city in Texas with a 2008 population of 2.2 million in a 600 square mile area. The helicopter division patrols about a 700 square mile area. The recent helicopter acquisitions are part of a city and police department plan to have two helicopters in the air (or on duty) for up to 21 hours a day.
To do this you also need a lot of people. The Houston PD Air Support Division will double in size from 44 personnel to a total of 88 personnel. All pilots and Tactical Flight Officers are sworn Houston police officers.
In a 2008 news release regarding the MD 500E purchase, Dan Schwarzbach a 23 year member of the Houston Police Air Support, and current president of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association stated "This is a great day for the citizens of Houston, The Police Department, Helicopter Patrol Unit, and MD Helicopters. This purchase reaffirms the City of Houston commitment to airborne law enforcement, continues the long term relationship with MD Helicopters, Inc. and again establishes the Houston Police Department as a leader in law enforcement aviation."
It would not be possible to grow a police air support unit the way Houston Police has, if there wasn't a need, and if there wasn't staunch support from both city leaders and the citizens of Houston. I would say they are doing things right in Houston.
Sources: Houston Police website, Wikipedia.org, MD Helicopters Inc.