The Pasadena, California, Police Department is getting a new camera for one of its helicopters. The move is part of an effort to standardize the department's aerial fleet, and will serve as a tool for mutual aid responses in neighboring cities.
In its request, the department noted that the addition of the camera to one of its other helicopters will further efforts to standardize the aerial fleet, while minimizing the reliance on older, outdated systems.
The Air Operations Section operates five patrol helicopters, seven days a week, providing a "much-needed safety barrier" for officers and other first responders on the ground, the request stated.
Lt. Bradley May, who oversees the Air Operations Section, told Government Fleet that the unit responds to roughly 7,500 calls per year, taking on approximately 3,500 flight hours per year.
According to the agency, multiple helicopters are frequently required to be operated during various times of the day and the camera that the department already has is used regularly during flights.
The unit also provides aerial responses to the Foothill Air Support Team and its two sister cities, Glendale and Burbank. This accounts for a coverage area of approximately 175 sq. mi. between the 13 partner agencies.
Additionally, the agency noted that flight crews are frequently tasked with assisting other county, state, and federal agencies in support of homeland security missions, infrastructure inspections, and critical incident planning.
May said he hopes to be able to purchase cameras for the rest of the helicopter's patrol fleet in the future.
The RFP garnered opposition during the Oct. 16 city council meeting and in subsequent digital public comment submissions, with some residents pointing to the high cost and others pointing to the environmental impact of aircraft.
The purchase was made using existing budgeted funding sourced from a grant obtained through the Urban Area Security Initiative. There is no impact to the city's general fund.
The RFP also addressed privacy concerns, saying that department policy prevents the equipment from being used to violate personal privacy laws.
Why is the Camera So Expensive?
According to Pasadena Police, in the field of airborne law enforcement, the most effective piece of equipment on the helicopter is the gyro-stabilized, EO/IR (Electro Optical/Infra-Red) camera system.
Because these cameras must meet stringent FAA requirements for airworthiness, the costs are significantly higher than general use cameras.
"Furthermore, this technology allows the crew to safely respond to areas that are currently inaccessible in night or low-light conditions and improves their aerial observation capabilities," the RFP stated. "This ultimately gives law enforcement the advantage when searching for outstanding suspects, immensely adding to the safety of officers on the ground."
The camera can zoom in further than a traditional camera, allowing officers to be "on scene" at a higher distance.
"Response time is what matters when you're trying to catch someone," May said. "The camera itself is a game-changer in the sense that it allows us to fly higher, and we're able to be a lot more effective with less man hours to get the job done more efficiently."
Editor's Note: The title of this story was changed on Nov. 8, 2023, to accurately reflect the location in which the helicopter camera will go.