Austin Police unveil newest crime-fighting tool


by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Posted on September 6, 2013 at 6:21 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 6 at 7:28 PM

AUSTIN -- There's a new tool in the Austin Police Department crime fighting arsenal.

On Thursday APD and city leaders unveiled their newest helicopter to join the fleet.

Until now, APD had just two helicopters in its fleet. One, a stripped down military model from 1969, the other -- a slow, not-very-powerful chopper they got in 2001.

Chief Art Acevedo says the new helicopter is bringing the air fleet into the 21st century.

Chief Acevedo, along with officers and city officials, watched the Eurocopter AS350 B3e land at Austin Bergstrom International Airport. 

“You can run but you can't hide from the helicopter,” said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.  “If you have more helicopters you need less police officers on the ground.”

It took more than two years for the city to buy the aircraft, which has special equipment including law enforcement instrument panels, infrared cameras, and tactical consoles.

There's a tracker for locating stolen property and vehicles, an updated thermal imager, and much more.

“With the new mapping software, as soon as we type an address in, it will bring us specifically to that house,” said APD Chief Tactical Flight Officer Tom Lopatowski.

This helicopter is also equipped to carry buckets to help battle fires.

City officials say it's desperately needed, and feel it's just a matter of time before a huge wildfire like the one that ripped through Bastrop in 2011, happens here.

“It is the first aircraft with firefighting capabilities where the city has absolute complete control,” Chief Acevedo said. “That means when a call goes out from the fire department asking for help, for our assistance, they don't have to wait in line because it will be our number one priority.”

The new chopper cost about $3.5 million. But the chief says the resources this new aircraft brings to the city are priceless.

“For the first time we have an aircraft that truly meets the multi-mission capabilities and necessity that we need,” he said.  “We're going to be working with the Fire Department [and] EMS. We can do so many things with this aircraft that we couldn't do before.”

APD’s pilots will be training with the helicopter next week.

Check out more photos from the unveiling of APD's new helicopter Thursday.