Police aircraft are frequently spotted circling around peaceful protests around the country. These aircraft are typically equipped with high-powered cameras with equipment capable of recording and transmitting the video captured by the equipment. This article focuses on law enforcement aircraft used in the San Francisco Bay Area.
At a protest one week after San Leandro Police shot and killed Steven Taylor on April 18, 2020, an Oakland Police helicopter with the tail number N220PD was observed circling protesters as they drove to the Walmart where Taylor was killed.
N220PD has a FLIR 8500 camera that installed in Jan. 2016. According to the manufacturer, the camera has thermal imaging and can auto track a target or scene and point a laser to direct ground forces.
Examples of what the FLIR 8500 camera is capable of can be seen in this promotional video from YouTube.
The Oakland Police Department’s other helicopter, tail number N510PD, also has a FLIR 8500 camera.
An East Bay Regional Park District Police helicopter with tail number N996PD was seen circling Oakland during protests against police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. N996PD has a FLIR U8500XRLP camera that was installed in 2010.
A second East Bay Regional Park District Police helicopter with tail number N708PD also has a FLIR 8500 camera, a high-intensity SX-16 searchlight and a basket/pod attachment for rescues.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has a Cessna U206G airplane, tail number N5525U, with a FLIR 8500 camera, Avalex AVR8000 digital video recorder, and BMS BMT75-9P Microwave Downlink System.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office will soon have its own helicopter: a Bell Textron 505 Jet Ranger X equipped with a Wescam MX-10 camera system, Trakkabeam TLX Searchlight, AEM 300 watt Loudhailer loudspeaker, and Churchill ARS700 Map System connected to the MX-10 camera and TLX Searchlight. The no-bid $3 million helicopter purchase was approved on October 29, 2019, by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.
A California Highway Patrol airplane, tail number N137HP, was also seen circling the George Floyd protests in Oakland in June 2020. This Gippsaero is equipped with a Wescam MX-15 camera, Uniden BCD536HP scanner, and Rho Theta RT-600 Multi-Band Direction Finder.
According to the manufacturer, the Wescam MX-15 camera is ideal for “covert intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance,” has thermal imaging, a laser illuminator to highlight targets and can track targets. A demonstration of its capabilities can be seen on YouTube.
The Contra Costa County Sheriff helicopter, tail number N408CC, is a Textron Canada 407, with a FLIR Star Safire 380-HDc camera system with a thermal image infrared sensor. The camera is interfaced to a searchlight slaving system, two video monitors and a Churchill augmented reality system (ARS-600). Like other surveillance cameras, it can automatically track targets. The FLIR Star Safire 380-HDc camera and its capabilities can be seen in this YouTube video.
The San Jose Police Department helicopter, tail number N408PD, is an Airbus AS 350B3, with a Wescam MX-10 camera, Trakkabeam A800 Searchlight, Churchill ARS700 Map System, and a Power Sonix (“The Sound of Homeland Security”) loudspeaker.
The Sonoma County Sheriff helicopter, tail number N108SC, is a Bell Textron 407 with a Wescam MX-10 camera, Aerocomputers UC6000 digital mapping system, Aero Dynamix night vision imaging system, Luminator HSL-1600 searchlight, and an AEM LS600 loudspeaker.
Note: An earlier version of this article was posted to Oakland Privacy.
August 7, 2022 Update: The Alameda County Sheriff has a second airplane. It is a Cessna 206H with tail number N10CX. We’ll have more details about this aircraft soon.