The Stockton Police Department's newest tool weighs more than 3,600 pounds, can reach speeds up to 155 mph and comes with an equally cool-sounding name: Falcon One-Zero.
The department officially unveiled its first-ever helicopter this week at its Air Support hanger at Stockton Metropolitan Airport.
"This is a game-changer," Police Chief Eric Jones said as he stood in front of the black and white Bell 505 Jet Ranger X model. "The fight on crime and the commitment to community safety has shifted. This is a new tool on our tool belt with amazing technology to aid in criminal apprehensions and to make our community members and our officers safer."
The three-seat helicopter comes equipped with a light single engine and has a maximum flight time of 3½ hours. The helicopter can fly at an altitude of up to 20,000 feet.
High-definition cameras are found in both the front and rear of the aircraft, and a sophisticated mapping system allows pilots to identify street names and businesses in real time no matter the time of day.
A Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera can pick up heat signatures from someone on the ground, but it cannot see through buildings or solid objects. Video recorded on the camera allows officers to review it for evidence.
Benefits of having an air unit include assisting patrol with criminal apprehension, vehicle pursuits, finding wanted and missing persons, natural disasters, and reducing response times to other emergencies. The purchase of the helicopter will not replace the department's Unmanned Aerial Support (drone) program.
"The helicopter can respond from one side of the city to another in just a few minutes," Jones said. "It can hone a high-definition camera to any portion of the city within seconds."
The air unit will be available to partner with neighboring law enforcement agencies for mutual aid should it be called upon, said Jones, adding that the mere presence of the aircraft overhead as a visible presence can deter crime from occurring.
To Jones and the Stockton Police Department, finally acquiring a helicopter is a historic moment. The department had championed the procurement of a helicopter for several years, and before the arrival of Falcon One-Zero, Stockton police had to rely on air support from the California Highway Patrol.
However, that helicopter was stationed 83 miles away in Auburn, northeast of Sacramento, which resulted in a long arrival time to Stockton.
In June 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown awarded the Stockton Police Department a $3 million grant for the helicopter.
In November, the Stockton City Council unanimously approved the purchase of the helicopter for $2,767,415. The council's motion also authorized the department to acquire equipment needed on the aircraft — a high-powered camera with infrared capabilities, spotlights, a radio and a public address system were among the most requested.
"We had a very strong need; we believe we had the data and the past instance to show why a helicopter was such an important tool for us to have here in Stockton PD," Jones said.
At the moment, Falcon One-Zero will be operated by Chief Pilot Officer Dan Lowry and Air Support Sgt. Richard Buckley.
The addition of the helicopter has already paid off for Stockton police on its first day on patrol. On June 24, Jones said, the aircraft was able to locate a suspect who would have likely evaded ground units.
A video tour of the new aircraft is available online.
(c)2019 The Record (Stockton). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.