You cant look at an agency being broke or well funded as an indicator as to whether or not they train pilots. You would be very surprised at the agencies who pay for their pilots training and maybe more surprised at the ones that don't. If you are not hired as a pilot specifically, then its imperative that an applicant understands that they are not competing for a pilot slot, you are most likely going to be competing for a TFO slot. And for the TFO slot, you will be competing against street cops. Because thats what a TFO is. They are a street cop who is being chauffeured around to do a job. The TFO is the tool. The helicopter, flown by the pilot, is how the TFO gets to the job site. If the TFO could get to the job site without the pilot... I can guarantee you just about every agency would eliminate their pilot slots. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen with TFO applicants who have a cert is that they spend the entire interview talking about the fact that they are a pilot and rarely mention anything about why we should select them as a TFO. Ive also had people who wander down to the hangar with their newly minted CFI cert from the local school and generously offer that if we hired them on as a unit pilot, they would be more than willing to help the unit pilots obtain our FAA ratings. Believing the urban legend that many LE air units have pilots who don't have FAA certificates.
Like we discussed before, there is the sworn vs civilian discussion. Its irrelevant. We can debate it all day long but it doesn't have any bearing on your situation because agencies make their own decisions. Ive seen places where the civilian pilot is hired, and stays a civilian partnered with a sworn TFO. Ive seen civilian pilots hired and sent to the academy, and go straight to the pilot seat. Ive seen them graduate the academy and then go to the FTO program where they fail and are terminated because they didnt have the basic abilities to act as an LEO. Some agencies may send you through as a formality, and with others, you get the full ride with no slack. No different than an experienced civilian pilot making it into Army Flight School and failing out of Warrant Officer School. You couldnt make it through a basic patrol training program, but you expect the guys on the ground to take your tactical input from the air? A lot of agencies run dual pilot crews meaning the pilots all switch off acting as the observer so you need to know how to think like a street cop on the days you act as a TFO. Some civilian hired pilots do it some cant. Ive also seen pilots hired externally, told they would go straight to aviation, and once hired on, they find themselves going through an entire full field patrol training program. When they complained about the bait and switch (intentional or unintentional) told "Theres the door if you want to leave. We hired you for your pilot skills, but you'll be a cop first." You don't have to like it. Its just how it can be some times. Many agencies aren't going to employ a pilot who can only be used as a pilot. If you are down for Mx, weather, budgets, etc.... guess what you get to do? Well, you get to do whatever they need you to do. Other agencies, the pilots are completely off limits whether sworn or civilian.
Does this all sound confusing? Yes, as a whole it does. But in reality its not. All you need to do is look at the agency you ultimately want to fly for and figure out a way to understand their specific dynamics. Ive worked for 4 separate LE agencies in 2 states. The first 2 agencies I didn't fly for. I started as a deputy working in the jail. I lateralled to another agency because I wasnt willing to spend 5-7yrs in the jail, then do 5 yrs in patrol before I ever had the chance to try out for Narcs or SWAT. Huh? Was that a typo? No..... Although I had my Private Airplane before I got into LE, I didnt get into LE with the idea of becoming a pilot. I spent several years at my second agency, working patrol, Field Training Officer, Narcs and SWAT and generally having a great time doing it before I decided aviation was where I wanted to be. Problem was, that dept didnt have aviation. So I had to lateral to one that did, where I started back at the bottom of the food chain as a patrol deputy working midnights. Since, I have flown as a sworn TFO and sworn pilot for one, and then became a civilian pilot for the another agency and am now the civilian Chief Pilot for that dept and Im getting ready to put the badge back on after a 18 months as a civilian.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting into law enforcement with the desire to make it to the air unit. You are no different than the guy who joins wanting to be a K9 handler, Homicide Detective or SWAT member. For them, their goals may never pan out either. The difference is that as a pilot, you have options outside of law enforcement to achieve your goals. If your goal is to fly, then trying to go the LE route may be a long road that never gets you to your goal. Or you could end up like hundreds of other LE pilots nationwide, civilian, sworn, civilian to sworn, sworn to civilian (yes it happens) who go to work and chase bad guys in a flying patrol car. They key is knowing the facts about how people make it into the unit you want to fly for and deciding how long you are willing to invest before you may have to accept that it didn't work. By then you are older, making good money... probably married with kids and a house? Is your significant other going to "allow" you to drop it all so you can go be an entry level CFI while she gets her new EBT card hot off the press?
Well good grief Pig.... great info but what would you do looking back in your infinite wisdom as both a pilot and a gun totting law man? Well Im glad you asked. If I was a guy or girl who wanted to fly in LE, but flying was my ultimate passion, heres what I would do.
Stay in the civilian market, gain experience, do all the regular pilot things. CFI, GOM, Tours, maybe some EMS, Utility or Fire or wherever your career takes you. Make an attempt to become a Reserve Officer or Deputy Sheriff somewhere if you can, and while doing all of that, not screw up your background with stupid stuff. Then pursue one of the many external hired LE pilot positions that are regularly posted. Or if you get brave, take a brief hiatus from flying full time, take your 3000hrs and go apply to an agency as a street cop, and here is an important detail.. for an agency that has an air unit, and see if anything works out for you. How long you decide to invest into waiting is up to you. Its going to take a few years. But guess what? Its going to take you a few years by becoming a cop and hoping you can get in too. The difference is, if it never pans out, at least you are still a working pilot instead of being a pissed off cop who kicks their dog, drowns their sorrows in alcohol and women and curses every time the agencies brand new AStar flies over.
Sorry.... this is what you people get when Im stuck at the hangar waiting for a storm to pass. You know us LE pilots.... socked in IFR conditions is a single cloud at 5000'.
Edited by Flying Pig, 23 November 2014 - 12:58.