AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas is the only border state that allows and trains its officers to fire on suspects from airborne helicopters, a policy the Department of Public Safety says is necessary to combat increasing drug and human trafficking operations, the Austin American-Statesman reported Sunday.
California, Arizona and New Mexico — the other three states that border Mexico — do not all have explicit rules that bar officers from firing from a helicopter, but told the newspaper (http://bit.ly/QlcQaw) their troopers know not to do something that risky.
Texas trains officers to fire from the air, officials with the Department of Public Safety said. Trooper Miguel Avila, whose shots from a helicopter killed two unarmed illegal immigrants from Guatemala last month, received 44 hours of specialized training in aircraft operations and tactical shooting.
The FBI is investigating that incident, which also injured a third person
According to the DPS General Manual, a vehicle can be fired on if officers feel it is necessary to defend themselves or others from serious injury or death. Spokesman Tom Vinger told the newspaper officers can also use force to end a high-speed chase that threatens bystanders.
Agency officials have said Avila fired at the truck because it was speeding toward a school three miles away, posing a risk to the students. The immigrants were covered by a tarp and may not have been visible.
Vinger said DPS is reevaluating its policy about shooting from helicopters, but does not plan on halting the policy until the investigation is complete.
Other states, though, say they do not allow or want officers shooting from the air.
California shares a 140-mile border with Mexico. The California Highway Patrol doesn't allow officers to shoot from the air. The Los Angeles Police Department doesn't have a policy against doing so, but would not expect them to try it, said spokesman Bruce Borihanh.
"It doesn't happen because our officers would never do it. It's just not going to happen. It's common sense. It's not only too risky, it's not tactical," Borihanh said.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety patrols the state's 372-mile border. Spokesman Bart Graves said shooting from helicopters is "flat-out not allowed."
"We just think it's unprofessional (and) it's a liability issue," he said.
And New Mexico, which shares a 180-mile border with Mexico, doesn't have a policy about it because it's not done, said State Police Chief Robert Shilling.
"You have a problem with accuracy," Shilling said.
One of the companies Texas uses to train its officers, Dallas-based Craft International, states in its reading material that shooting accurately from a helicopter is complex and difficult. A variety of things, including the aircraft's speed, height and tilt from the ground, can all influence accuracy.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com