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Deparments paying for flight training


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#1 JCBigler

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Posted 01 June 2012 - 21:27

Greetings all, I have a somewhat odd question about helicopter law enforcement training.

Let me preface this by saying that I work for a local city government, but not in the law enforcement section. I happened to come upon an Invitation for Bid that my city put out for helicopter training. Being curious about helicopter stuff I downloaded the bid document and read through it. It actually specified helicopter flight instruction, ground school, written exam and check ride for a private pilots license. Yes, a private pilots license!

I couldn't help but dig into this further, so I called up the buyer in the finance department who put this bid package together (she happened to be the buyer for a couple of bid packages that I had recently put out so she knew who I was).

I asked her about this Invitation for bid for helicopter flight training. And she said that it was for private pilots license training, litterally from the ground up with no prior flight experience for the police department. I didn't beleive her at first so I asked again if it was for more advanced training, or tactical training or something. She said, no, that they had asked those same questions and had talked about it in their department. She said that the price quotes that they got where in the $17,500 range for R44 flight training, which amounts to what you would pay for PPL.

So my question, has anyone ever run into an agency that will pay for your entire flight training, without even having any flight experience? (other than the military of course).

I would be lying if I said that I am not now seriously applying for the police department to get into the helicopter unit.
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#2 Flying Pig

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 09:41

There are many agencies across the country that pay for their pilots initial training. Good luck applying to get in. I always tell people that if you want to be a pilot, and think getting into LE is a sure ticket to a pilot slot, good luck. It could take you years to get in if you ever do. I was a cop for about 9 yrs before I got in as a part time observer (flight officer) and I had paid for all of my own ratings already. Did patrol, training officer, SWAT, narcotics and finally a spot in aviation opened up. A lot of departments also require that you spend a certain number of years as a patrol cop before you can apply to special assignments. My agency requires a minimum of 5 unless you have experience in another department. I was a part time observer for about 3yrs before I was moved into flying our surveillance plane full time. And have recently moved into flying our helicopter full time as well as the airplane.

Getting your training in an R44 seems a little over kill unless the agency is flying R44s. They could just about cut that in half with an R22 or a 300. But they may also want their pilots training in something a little more "robust" to prep them for the real world. What type of helicopters is the agency flying?

My agency now requires you to pay for your private and then the department does the rest in our aircraft with our instructors in our 500. But only after there is a vacant slot, and only after your tapped to be the one to go get it. Just because you show up with a PPL doesnt mean anything usually. And in a department that trains its own pilots, they really dont care if you have a private. They will pick the person they feel will fit the position best and quite honestly, the officer who has earned the position. They generally arent going to grab a rookie off the street. Its going to go to an officer thats proven themselves. Or will go to an observer who is already in the unit and is moving on to be a pilot. But to answer your question. Yes, its fairly common.

Edited by Flying Pig, 02 June 2012 - 09:55.

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#3 JCBigler

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 15:48

Thanks for the feedback. I guess I figured that they would recruit some uniformed police officer who already had helicopter flight experience and then pay for their more advanced training, turbine or tactical stuff that they use for their police work, or recruiting ex military or other professional pilots and then running them through the police academy.

Our police department has two helicopters, a 206 and an MD500 of some flavor. The woman in finance that I was talking to said that she thought that they already had five or six helicopter pilots and want to add up to three more to cover the rest of their shifts or relief work.

I guess, I'm also a little dismayed that the helicopter pilots for our police force may not have as much experience or flight time as one would think that a job like that would demand. Seems a little dangerous for guys that will be flying at night, possibly in bad weather, in an urban setting at low levels, etc... for your run of the mill PPL or even CPL pilots.

And I assume that they speced training in the R44 because that is what the only two helicopter flight schools in the area offer. I know for a fact that there isn't a full fledged school in all of Oklahoma that offers 300 time. I have heard that there is an individual instructor that owns a 269, but that's as close as it gets.
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#4 ctimrun

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 20:17

I guess, I'm also a little dismayed that the helicopter pilots for our police force may not have as much experience or flight time as one would think that a job like that would demand. Seems a little dangerous for guys that will be flying at night, possibly in bad weather, in an urban setting at low levels, etc... for your run of the mill PPL or even CPL pilots.


Not sure why so many people think a police department takes a brand new freshly trained PPL/CPL and turns him or her loose in a multimillion dollar aircraft. I have been in airborne LE for a long time and have never seen an agency do this. A newbie LE pilot will typically be assigned to fly with an air unit CFI for quite some time before ever being turned loose without a second qualified pilot sitting at a second set of controls. Most airborne LE CFI's have thousands upon thousands of hours of very demanding time behind the controls.

As I'm sure you can imagine LE is a very unique job, especially when attempting to utilize an aircraft to do the job. It is very difficult if not impossible to get a non LE experienced pilot to think like a cop. This requires much more verbal communication between pilot and TFO/observer which severely complicates CRM and IMO makes things much more dangerous at low levels, etc etc you mentioned above. When there is a LE experienced pilot along with the LE TFO/observer often times they can do some serious work without very much verbal communication between the two of them all the while maintaining solid CRM. So it is much easier to take a solid policeman and train him to be a pilot, than it is to take a pilot and try to get him to think like a policeman.

My agency trains from the ground up, but not before a person has not only been an officer for approx ten years, but has proven to be a solid policeman. They have to work part time as a TFO for a long time to make sure they can do the job (keep in mind the TFO job is much more difficult than flying the aircraft), as well as fit in well with the people already in the air unit. And yes we have cops who already have ratings, however they have no chance at getting in to the air unit for a variety of reasons. Recently we had an already rated helicopter pilot start the part time TFO position. This guy is a solid policeman, has a PPL-H, and plays well with his coworkers. About two hours into his first shift as TFO the pilot had to drop him off because he got airsickness and threw up in the aircraft. He just couldn't handle the turns, operating the camera, binoculars, etc etc. To give him the benefit of the doubt he was given two more opportunities to try it out and even though he didn't throw up he asked the pilot to land before he did. Unfortunately he doesn't have a chance at getting in.

The cost to train people to fly is expensive but keep in mind a lot of these air units are very uniquely funded. State or federal grants is one way. Another way and my favorite is through asset forfeiture where the seized assets of a drug dealer buys us brand new aircraft, equipment, and training so there is no out of pocket expense to the agency itself.

Edited by ctimrun, 04 June 2012 - 09:07.


#5 Flying Pig

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Posted 03 June 2012 - 11:18

I guess, I'm also a little dismayed that the helicopter pilots for our police force may not have as much experience or flight time as one would think that a job like that would demand. Seems a little dangerous for guys that will be flying at night, possibly in bad weather, in an urban setting at low levels, etc... for your run of the mill PPL or even CPL pilots.


Have you researched the accident rate in airborne law enforcement? Despite the missions that are performed and the 10s of thousands oh hours per year that are logged, its almost non-existant. When an agency will cut their officers loose depends on the demands of the unit. If you are a local sea level agency that spends most of your time turning circles, you may get cut loose fairly soon. If your unit is an NVG operation, a pilot may be restricted to days only for a time. If your an agency, like mine, that does patrol, SAR over water and land, long line, NVG, Airborne Use of Force, etc etc you may find yourself with about 500hrs dual, to include pretty intensive mountain instruction, hours and hours full touch down autos, day night and NVG autos, a decent amount of long line time and then plenty of time in just patrol tactics before you ever get cut loose with a non-pilot partner. And all that comes after several years of being a Tactical Flight Officer for 5-7 yrs working the FLIR, SX-16, all the radios, Swift Water Tech training, Rescue tech training and being the guy out on the skids coordinating a rescue as the crew chief before you even move into a pilot slot. On the civilian side, pilots are concerned about building time. In LE its not the quantity of the hours but the quality. With 6hrs per day budgeted to fly, pretty much every time we fly if we are not handling calls for service we are headed to the hills, mountains or rivers to work on a skill or over to the area where we do long line training to sling the cement block around for about 20-30 minuted or until the next call comes in.

Is every unit the same in how they operate? No. But what if an agency had pretty serious missions or terrain to operate in, you will find that when a new pilot is cut lose on their own they will have restrictions. If you have mountains, there will be restrictions on altitudes you can fly up to, No SAR missions without a more experienced pilot on board, maybe no off-site landings. All depending on your skill level. Where I am, a pilot will typically have about 1500hrs before they are cleared to do all missions at all elevations. Keep in mind, thats 1500hrs turbine, and its all flying and training for those missions. Not straight and level "time building".

We have a pilot in my unit who went and got his private on his own after about 100hrs dual internally in the unit. But we couldnt take check rides or allow non-pilots to solo in our aircraft for insurance reasons. So he went and got his private, came back to the unit and continued to train with a very high time unit CFI (25,000hrs plus) for probably another 300-400 hrs. Full down auto training every 3 months, NVG training, mountain, advanced auto rotation techniques. When the time came that we needed another pilot he quickly did his Commercial check ride in the department aircraft at that point and was released for day shift patrol with many restrictions in our 500E. Its been about 2 yrs about about 1500 more hours and he is just now finally signed off to perform all unit missions. But what did outsiders see? They say a guy with a week old Commercial certificate launching off to do LE missions in a turbine helicopter. Which was far from the reality of it.

So there are a lot of things to consider. I would venture to guess that your agency you are looking at has identified that they will need a couple pilots in the future. They are getting their initial training taken care of, and over a period of time they will receive advanced training within the unit. Most agencies just dont have the time to do PPL training. Its much easier to do that, and then bring a guy back and finish his commercial in house. Depending on the mission profiles of that unit will determine when those pilots are released, and once released, what they are allowed to do.

There are plenty of agencies who operate very successfully with civilian pilot/sworn TFO combos. And there are also far more who operate just as well with in house trained sworn pilots. In my agency, we often land and handle calls, assist officers on the ground, and land and take people into custody as an aircrew team. Where I am, the pilot needs to be a sworn experienced cop as well as a trained and experienced pilot. When I was a flight officer, I was in several scenarios where I need an experienced cop with me, not a civilian pilot who completed an academy.

Its just as amusing for me to hear that we cut loose150hr commercial pilots in a brand new turbine helo as it is to hear someone suggest we just hire a civilian and put them through an academy and then expect them to know how to be a cop. It discounts the level of training most LE officers and pilots go through on both sides. Flying and the law enforcement side. Keep in mind, when a new cop comes out of the academy after 6-7 months, they are on Field Training for probably close to 6 months, then probably have another year of probation where they are closely watched and where more advanced training continues. Keep in mind most agencies can release you "without cause" while on probation. They can literally call you in and tell you that you are failing to meet the training standards. "Please go turn in your gear and Good Luck in the future." Then even after that I would say most officers will tell you its easily 3-5 years before you really start getting comfortable with handling just about any type of call with any level of competence. Most LE agencies have a 3-5 yr requirement before you can do anything other than patrol like SWAT, Narcs, Detectives. Thats because there is a tremendous amount to learn on the street. And most air units bring their pilots up the same way. I have given many local CFIs a tour of our hangar only to hear the same old question. "If I join the department can I get it in writing that I will be able to come to the air unit?" No, you'll get it in writing that you can start day 1 of the academy like everyone else who successfully flies here had to do. My unit has had a couple private pilots who tried out and couldnt make it past the initial observer training (flight officer). I will tell you that the examples I used were pretty normal not only within my unit and the many agencies I am aquatinted with but also even the ones who primary mission is city patrol only. We like to fly. We like to fly a lot! We dont want some new pilots smashing up our helicopter, killing me or our friends and/or sending us all back to the street because theres no money to replace our equipment. I would even say many units are even over board on the minimums that they require just for a new pilot to just go out and do basic local patrol.

When I got into police work I already had my Private Airplane. And getting into aviation wasn't even on my mind. There were way to many other wild things I wanted to do with my feet on the ground first!

Edited by Flying Pig, 03 June 2012 - 14:59.


#6 ctimrun

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Posted 03 June 2012 - 14:11

And getting into aviation wasn't even on my mind. There were way to many other wild things I wanted to do with my feet on the ground first!


Very well said and great point! Every member of our unit has worked multiple special assignments before getting into the air unit. Narcotics, homicide, gangs, traffic, DARE, etc which makes everyone very well rounded and better equipped in a support role for these units when it comes time to do whatever the task at hand is. After all we are called "air support" for a reason. If the pilots and TFO's had little to no exposure to other areas of LE before getting into the air unit they wouldn't be very effective in supporting them from the air.

I'm sure there are LE pilots who have succeeded in getting into the air unit when that was their one and only goal when joining LE to begin with, but probably rare. The majority of guys I have met over the years have done a variety of assignments before pursuing the air units they work in. The best TFO's and pilots are well rounded people, not ones who are only focused on getting their hands on the controls. Flying Pig's statement above summed me (I was also a private pilot before getting into LE and had 14 years in patrol and various assignments before getting in the air unit) and every member of my unit up when we started in LE.

Edited by ctimrun, 03 June 2012 - 14:17.


#7 JCBigler

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Posted 03 June 2012 - 14:14

Thank you both for the very detailed information.

#8 EAGLE1

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 04:40

Ctimrun and Flying Pig pretty much said it all. I have been in ALE for 19 years. I can confirm their stories as I have had many of the same experiences over the years. I could go on but it would just be reguritating what has already been said.
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#9 Spike

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 17:01

This reply is not intended to spur a debate or contradict anyone. It is simply MY opinion based on MY experience.

Not all departments subscribe to the “years on the street” philosophy. My particular department hires experienced commercial pilots and trains them to be cops -successfully. We do this due to our multi-mission capabilities requiring a higher level of skill right from the get-go. Plus, as a small unit, we don’t have the luxury of time to train someone “in house” even though all of the pilots have extensive commercial teaching backgrounds. Additionally, a couple years ago, our department researched the idea to train pilots “in-house”. With that, a cost analysis was conducted where the final number reached the 400K mark. Clearly, not a cost effective way to operate….

As a former contract pilot for a LE agency, I found the actual flying no different than any other helicopter job. Sure, there were specific skills to learn, but as a long-time commercial helicopter pilot, this was not unique as all *new* helicopter jobs have their own set of skills which need to be learned. For the LE gig, it took just a few hours to prefect the skill….

The argument regarding civilian pilots is a common theme amongst departments who’ve never used them. This is interdepartmental protectionism at its best. The proof is when a TFO or pilot position does become available; the department refuses to offer these positions to experienced (sworn) laterals. They instead spend an enormous amount of time, and money, on in-house training ignoring the fact they could simply “lateral-in” an already experience LE aviator and save the expense. In short (not really), if I can lateral in as an experienced officer, why can’t I as an experienced officer aviator? And, if I did lateral-in as an experience officer with flight experience, I’d probably be required to stand in line behind officers with zero experience. To me, this makes no sense. And, from a safety standpoint, it goes against the commercial “industry standard”…..

Furthermore, to believe all departments only allow the “cream of the crop” to rise to the occasion is (respectfully) a little naive. Politics play a huge role with being selected. It’s a fact; there are some ALE crewmembers out there that have no business operating in the cockpit. Specifically, there have been numerous instances where an applicant had failed the training program only to grieve the process and allowed a second, third, fourth chance. I know of one department who provided approximately 500 hours of dual instruction in order to obtain a commercial certificate to qualify for a PIC position. Unfortunately, this is how government works. If you happen to work for a department that operates with honesty, integrity and a backbone then consider yourself fortunate……

Additionally, pilots who’ve previously operated as a TFO can sometimes generate problems. That is, the pilot who flies the call is if *he* is the TFO. I know it may sound corny, but the TFO gig is more of an art form than a skill set. A really good TFO will be extremely creative with his methodology and sense what needs to be done rather than following a specific guideline. Ex-TFO pilots will often place the aircraft in a position as if *they* were acting as the TFO which isn’t necessarily where the TFO in the left seat wants to be. This can lead, and has led to, a hostile cockpit environment. Plus, ex-TFO’s who mentally insert them self into the call are essentially flying distracted. Again, you’re lucky if you work for a department that understands these issues and appropriately deals with them….

It’s a known fact within the AEL community that LE management and aviation management rarely agree. Unfortunately for the aviation side, LE management usually wins which generally inhibits “outside the box” thinking. I believe in this day and age of shrinking budgets, downsizing and unit closures, out-side-the-box thinking is necessary more than ever. And, perhaps if this type of thinking was adopted, the previously mentioned issues wouldn’t be issues. However, I fully understand my opinion is in the minority if not flat out rejected and/or ignored within the LE sector. And, that’s fine by me……

Edited by Spike, 04 June 2012 - 17:01.


#10 OH58A

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 17:47

As Spike says, there are a lot of politics involved as well. We use both civilian and LE pilots and have been successful with both. We have also trained a TFO in house successfully, depends on the person. I know of MANY agencies that allow you to PIC the helo with a PPL. I don't agree with this but I am not making the decision. Our unit requires a MINIMUM of CPL/INST to be a PIC. I have flown with several applicants who are already rated and did not work out. And yes, you could hire a retired LE pilot or a lateral and get a known quantity. What happens if sometime during the training one of these chosen few can't cut it.

#11 eagle5

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 17:48

A couple of questions.

1. If the TFO is a cop, then why does the pilot have to be one?

2. If the pilot is a cop, why does he need a commercial rating?

#12 OH58A

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 17:58

Like I said, in my unit the pilot does not have to be a cop. IN MY OPINION, if you are being paid to fly an aircraft you need a commercial rating, it also shows a certain demonstrated standard. At one time, of the five pilots in the unit, four were CFI-Is. We encourage upgrading ratings, our Chief Pilot is an ATP- CFI-I helicopter and a NVG Instructor.

#13 Flying Pig

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Posted 05 June 2012 - 08:04

In LE the pilot does not actually need a commercial because they arent flying for hire. Their flying is incidental to their duties as a LEO. They arent being paid to fly, they are being paid to be a Deputy, Police Officer, etc.

However, I think its asking for serious trouble and a degrading of standards to do that. Any LE pilot worth their weight is advancing their training and education like any other pilot. There is no reason not to.

You know I really cant say I disagree with anything Spike says either. I do agree with Spike that in many cases having a civilian who has been trained works fine. But I do think the pilots, if civilian need to attend a basic academy at a minimum and even complete even just a modified FTO. To me it would be like joining the Army to be a pilot and never going to Basic or OCS.

Other agencies I believe work better with experienced deputies becoming pilots. As in my unit, I think I articulated fairly well why it works for us. But, again like Spike says, I think its unfortunate that LE aganices wont hire lateral pilots. Rarely do you see that. However (again) In the case of my unit, they have recruited 3 outside lateral pilots over the years. All of those laterals (experienced cops and pilot) were all CFIs and were charged with making insuring we did not have to go outside again. And for 15yrs it has worked well for our needs. But all it takes is for one guy to decide hes had enough, or lose his medical for some reason, and you would see us recruiting outside again. We dont have a pool of pilots sitting on the shelf.

So for you sinister people...... There is still hope:)

Edited by Flying Pig, 05 June 2012 - 08:13.


#14 Flying Pig

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Posted 05 June 2012 - 08:12

You know I really cant say I disagree with anything Spike says either. I do agree with Spike that in many cases having a civilian who has been trained works fine. But I do think the pilots, if civilian need to attend a basic academy at a minimum and even complete even just a modified FTO. To me it would be like joining the Army to be a pilot and never going to Basic or OCS.

Other agencies I believe work better with experienced deputies becoming pilots. As in my unit, I think I articulated fairly well why it works for us. But, again like Spike says, I think its unfortunate that LE aganices wont hire lateral pilots. Rarely do you see that. However (again) In the case of my unit, they have recruited 3 outside lateral pilots over the years. All of those laterals (experienced cops and pilot) were all CFIs and were charged with making insuring we did not have to go outside again. And for 15yrs it has worked well for our needs. But all it takes is for one guy to decide hes had enough, or lose his medical for some reason, and you would see us recruiting outside again. We dont have a pool of pilots sitting on the shelf.

So for you sinister people...... There is still hope:)

#15 eagle5

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Posted 05 June 2012 - 10:32

I'm not stating that the pilot MUST be a cop, it just seems like that's the standard for most LE departments (at least any ones I've looked into). I was just wondering why?

As for the commercial rating. A pilot with a private rating can still be held to higher "company" standards, as well as recieve advanced LE specific training. I was just wondering why would a department pay for a commercial rating (since it seems that some do) if the pilot isn't really getting paid to fly?

#16 Spike

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Posted 05 June 2012 - 18:57

Again, through MY experience, it has become fairly obvious to me the pilot should be separated from the police command structure altogether. Why? Consider this; through a career, any line-Officer can move through the ranks and one day, find himself in a Command position. This same line-Officer turned Commander, can be placed in charge of an Aviation Unit without ever realizing the level of responsibility that comes with operating aircraft. That is, supervising an ASU with no aviation background whatsoever and worse, no interest in aviation altogether. This happens. Where I come from, this is a deadly combination and tragically, it has proven to be so…..

Aviation culture is based on trust, not control. Simply put, goals should be met for the greater good of the organization and not because one person with shiny thingy’s says so…...

#17 Spike

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Posted 05 June 2012 - 19:01

I'm not stating that the pilot MUST be a cop, it just seems like that's the standard for most LE departments (at least any ones I've looked into). I was just wondering why?


Once created, these positions are negotiated by the Police Association (union). Once agreed upon, these positions are cemented in and thus protected by the association. When talking about pilot positions, this is the main reason why it’s a “locals only” philosophy.

As for the commercial rating. A pilot with a private rating can still be held to higher "company" standards, as well as recieve advanced LE specific training. I was just wondering why would a department pay for a commercial rating (since it seems that some do) if the pilot isn't really getting paid to fly?


Building time beyond Private for an average-Joe commercial student if far different than that of an ALE pilot building time for that same certification. Basically, it’s just OTJ training.

#18 Rockfinder

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 17:44

Does anyone know of any larger agencies that routinely hire from the outside ? I'm a well seasoned Army Infantry guy, and thinking trying (real hard) to fly when I get out, or going LE ... If I could find a way to combine the two with any level of confidence, that would be perfect.

My Aviation credentials are so underwhelming, that I will simply say I'm working on my PPL. My military credentials (for what it's worth) are very much more firmly established.

Any advice for a professional shooter with a love of helicopters ?

#19 Flying Pig

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 20:51

Hire pilots from outside? There are several. But they are going to usually want the same quals an most civilian companies, if not much higher depending on the departments missions. When my agency hired from outside, we hired a cop-pilot from another agency who was a CFI with over 22,000hrs.
I think our minimums on that job flier was 3000 TT, 2500hrs turbine with, 500 mountain, 200 NVG and CFI. And the pilot also had to be a lateral from another agency. It wasnt for a civilian. Ill go back to what I always say. Dont get into LE hoping it will lead to a flying job. Because it may never pan out. If your interested in that type of flying, go the civilian route, then after you have skills to offer, apply to agencies that hire civilian pilots or hire civilian pilots and make them cops. There are several. You just have to search around.

Maryland State Police
AZ DPS
...and a ton of others.

#20 PorkChopper

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Posted 30 September 2014 - 20:04

My dept does...last three guys accepted in to our unit only had to obtain medical certificates to apply. However, each of them had more than 7 years of service with the agency.




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