The Pima County Sheriff's Department has adopted an innovative approach to airborne law enforcement. When tasked to come up with an airborne patrol platform without the traditional costs of a helicopter, members of the department identified the fixed wing HT 295 Helio-Courier as an acceptable alternative to the helicopter. With slow flight capabilities in the high 20s, plenty of useable load, and the ability to mount heat sensing cameras to hard points under the wing, they discovered that they could perform about 80% of all missions that traditional police helicopters were called on to perform. But by using the fixed wing platform they were able to provide patrol and surveillance support at a fraction of the cost.
Yes fixed wing aircraft have long been used in airborne law enforcement applications, however, the vast majority are used as transport, or strictly surveillance from high altitudes. Not the direct patrol support that has been relegated to the helicopter for the past 40 years.
The Pima County Sheriff's Office operates 5 aircraft to include; 1-Cessna 210, 1-Cessna 310, 2- HT-420 patrol & surveillance airplanes, and 1- MD 530FF helicopter. The unit is staffed with 6 pilots (all of whom possess commercial and instrument fixed wing ratings), and several Tactical Flight Officers.