Surveillance Planes Used to Monitor Texas-Mexico Border
RIO GRANDE CITY – A report from the Texas Observer explains how the Texas Department of Public Safety uses planes to watch over the Texas-Mexico border.
DPS officials say they use the planes in a legal manner and also to assist criminal investigations.
A resident of Rio Grande City, a town in one of the two counties heavily surveilled, says although he’s aware of human and drug smuggling in the area, he believes the resources local, state and federal law enforcement offer make him feel secure.
KRGV’s Valerie Gonzalez spoke to the police chief about the findings.
Watch the video above for the complete stories.
DPS responded to our request with the following statement:
We basically use these two aircraft in the same way we use the other 22 aircraft; to assist all public safety agencies in carrying out a variety of missions, including searching for missing persons, fugitives and disaster response. The equipment (cameras and police/public safety communication radios) on board the Pilatus is the same equipment that is in the 15 helicopters. As one can see from the tracks as depicted in the article, the aircraft respond all over the state to meet appropriate mission requests.
All DPS aircraft are used in a legal manner regarding the rules of the Federal Aviation Administration and the privacy of our citizens, while operating within the public domain of the National Airspace.
The Pilatus aircraft are versatile state assets that respond to incidents on the border, but may also be utilized during missions in other parts of the state. The aircraft provides situational awareness and officer safety elements to on-scene responding officers and rescue personnel – and have been instrumental in assisting law enforcement officers and first responders in locating lost persons, disaster victims and criminal suspects. Some other specific examples of Pilatus missions include:
- The PC 12 was used extensively in the Hurricane Harvey as an airborne command and control platform, which included monitoring and “de-conflicting” the multiple helicopters being used by several different organizations working in a rescue environment. The communication capabilities allowed the Pilatus to prevent multiple assets from responding to the same rescue situation and prevented too many assets being in confined areas.
- Responding to Dallas when five officers were ambushed and killed, and nine officers and two civilians were injured in 2016. The Pilatus focused on tops of building to monitor criminal activity.
- Providing aerial support during the Austin bomber investigation.
- Providing assistance to local law enforcement in the San Antonio Violent Crime Task Force.
- Assisting in search for a murder suspect who killed a San Antonio police officer (Benjamin Marconi) in 2016.
- Helping locate an armed jail escapee, who assaulted multiple officers, in Atascosa County in December 2016. (The suspect died in an exchange of gunfire with officers.)
- Helping track an airplane involved in smuggling that landed at the Llano County airport in 2017. More than 200 pounds of marijuana was seized.
- Prisoner and evidence transport out of state.
- Assisted in rescuing illegal immigrants in distress.
- Recovering stolen vehicles and construction equipment with Lojack technology.
- Transporting equipment needed to investigate crimes.
The Pilatus has distinct advantages over other DPS aircraft, and they are the most versatile aircraft in the DPS fleet. The speed and flexibility of the Pilatus allows DPS to provide greater aerial coverage and support across the 268,597 square miles of Texas by increasing on-scene response time over much longer distances. Additionally, the speed of the aircraft, the ability to stay airborne longer, the wider view shed and the aircraft’s dynamic capabilities make the Pilatus an invaluable asset for the state of Texas and law enforcement across state. In addition, the operating costs of the Pilatus per hour are less than the DPS helicopters, and they are less disruptive to the general public.