Dallas mulls drones vs helicopter for police department

Dallas officials are debating whether aircraft drones should be a resource for police instead of an expensive helicopter.

Dallas police do not currently own any drones, but drones were used in the search for a missing Richardson girl and other cases where police need extra eyes over a broad area.

The Dallas Police Department is asking for a $2.5 million contract for a camera and mapping system for air one. Councilman Philip Kingston asked on Monday why the department won’t put that money toward drones. Cops said there are multiple reasons the chopper should remain.

“The helicopter can stay up longer, move about the area, go in different directions, gather more data than a drone,” said Assistant Chief Paul Stokes.

Movement restrictions are a big limitation, as government regulations require drones to be in the line of sight of a ground spotter. That means a drone can't yet be used for police chases -- like the one that ended with the capture of Armando Jaurez, the Home Depot police shooting suspect.

Stokes said the department of public safety used a drone during the NRA convention earlier this month. But with so many flight restrictions, DPD said Air One was still the best approach.

“We had fixed wing, our helicopter and DPS helicopter, we could fly about the area and get totality where we weren't limited to quarter mile radius from NRA and 100-mile ceiling,” Stokes said.

Kingston said Dallas needs to start lobbying lawmakers if regulations are the barrier to a more cost-effective police tool.

"In the future, I'll be looking at some aggressive budget cutting in this area,” Kingston said.

Stokes said DPD will likely soon be seeking funding to start a drone program of its own. But he believes drones are an additional tool and not a substitute for a manned helicopter.