Does anyone ever get away from the police helicopter?
September 17, 2016 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Shows like Police, Camera, Action! and Police Interceptors are a guilty pleasure. Watching these shows, it seems like once the police helicopter comes out, the person being chased is done for — they always get caught. Is this because the TV programmes don't show cases where the criminal escapes, or is it just impossible to get away once the helicopter comes out?

Bonus question: How would it be possible to get away from the police helicopter?
posted by alby to Law & Government (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you're alone in a vehicle or in a remote area without much in the way of cover - yes, I'd suspect you're going to get caught. But what if there are two or more of you running, or you ditch the vehicle?

I'd guess that the way you could potentially get away would be:

-Split up: the helicopter can only follow one of you
-Go towards an area with cover (e.g. if you're in a forested area with a closed canopy, you won't be able to be seen easily from the air [unless the police helicopter can sense your body heat in which case you're hosed])
-Go into a crowded area and mingle with the crowd
-Go into a neighborhood and hide or walk through the neighborhood under cover so the helicopter loses you.
posted by arnicae at 6:59 AM on September 17, 2016

It happens in the opening scene of Drive, in what seems like a fairly plausible way to me: the guy pulls into a busy parking structure and changes his clothes.
posted by caek at 7:17 AM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Once, a long time ago, there was a police helicopter chasing a guy near my parents' house, and it didn't catch him. It's possible they didn't have sight of him in the first place, but I think they did, because I did (probably), and it was right above at the time. Anyway, a guy darted out of the bushes right in front of me and booked, and the spotlight was on us. This was in a suburban area, at night, and they'd made a reverse 911 call or something telling residents to stay inside. I have no idea how he got away, but he did, at least for that night. All I can think is that he went into a building or they started following the wrong person for a while or something. All I know for sure is that he did evade the helicopter, so it can happen.

But you just inspired me to try to figure it for when I need to do this myself, and I found a thread with some ideas, some of which seem practical, like getting yourself into some deep woods or head toward an airport, and you'll eventually end up in a no fly zone.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:44 AM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

It almost happened in LA recently.
posted by Triumphant Muzak at 8:13 AM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here's a video from Youtube
posted by Triumphant Muzak at 8:23 AM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

From what I've seen living in my neighborhood, I think a better question would be: does the police helicopter ever catch anyone?

For example, maybe six weeks ago, there were about twelve gunshots from two guns near my house. Per neighbors' reports, the shooters fled by jumping fences. They ended up mid-block in someone's backyard. That person called the cops and gave the address. By now, a helicopter is circling. An announcement is getting made about turning yourself in before they release the tracking dogs, and that if a tracking dog comes up to you, do not run. About four patrol cars are at the intersection where shots were fired, a half block away. Ten minutes pass after dispatch received the address of the shooter. Ater unloading, the shooter tucks the gun back in his pants. He saunters down the driveway and gets in a truck that just pulled up. Neither the cops half a block away nor the circling helicopter take any notice.
posted by slidell at 8:59 AM on September 17, 2016 [10 favorites]

I wish I could find you a news link but I know the police helicopter in my neighborhood has lost people multiple times. They probably didn't have the person in sight to begin with though. So the person just walks away through the neighborhood or hides under a truck or something.
posted by interplanetjanet at 9:17 AM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Not to be overly paranoid or anything (but also knowing full well what manipulative, lying, overton-window-moving dicks the police can be) I would not be in the least surprised if they didn't have a rider in their contract that explicitly states "if we get out the helicopter for you, you have to show us catching the bad guys"
posted by sexyrobot at 9:48 AM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Geoff Manaugh's "A Burglar's Guide to the City" talks about this a little. He goes on a few ridealongs in the LAPD helicopter. Apparently they can't go to close to LAX because of the other planes, so it's not uncommon for savvy criminals to drive straight to that area and lose the helicopter that way.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 9:54 AM on September 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Spoiler alert: in Stranger Things, ...

...the kids eventually thwart a helicopter with some help. So if you have a buddy who can punch out the opposition for you, you're golden.
posted by ball00000ns at 10:20 AM on September 17, 2016

On some show about real life cops and bad guys, they interviewed a bank robber who successfully stayed on the lamb for years before finally being caught or turning himself in. One of his stories was about escaping the helicopter by being under water. Iirc, he did the cartoon thing of using a reed to breathe through, but I could be misremembering that part. He talked about being able to feel the impact of wind from the blades on the surface of the water.
posted by Michele in California at 11:07 AM on September 17, 2016

My area is not high crime (a gun was fired last week, not hitting anyone or anything, but the perp was not found and it is STILL headlines news...) but the police helicopter gets hauled out all the time. I have yet to hear of one arrest from chases involving the police. I think it is just an expensive toy they are trying to justify by using, even if it never gets results.
posted by saucysault at 12:29 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Geoff Manaugh's "A Burglar's Guide to the City" talks about this a little.

Here's a NYT-article by Manaugh based on that part from the book. It'll give you an idea on how the helicopters operate and how criminals try to avoid them: "How Aerial Surveillance Has Changed Policing - and Crime - In Los Angeles.".
posted by Petersondub at 2:52 PM on September 17, 2016

Just a single data point, but I definitely remember watching footage of a Hayabusa successfully outrunning a police chopper, and I'm pretty sure I've seen other video(s) shot from the POV of the biker in which motorcycles successfully evade helicopter pursuit.
posted by saladin at 5:25 PM on September 17, 2016

If I were being chased by a helicopter and it was the right time of day, I would head to the nearest shopping mall. I'd park in a garage, head into the mall, then call a friends to meet me on the outskirts of the parking lot away from the garage and be on my way. I am sure they could track it eventually using security cameras in the mall, but I'd be gone before that could happen.
posted by procrastination at 5:51 PM on September 17, 2016

To answer your "original" question, I think a lot of police departments would not be all that willing to be cooperative with a documentary/reality TV team if they appeared to show "get-aways" on a semi-regular basis (which I'm quite sure actually does happen), as it makes the police appear incompetent.

There was an IamA on Reddit with some cameramen from "Cops," and I swear they answered a similar question (i.e., where's the escapes?), but I can't seem to find it with Reddit's near-useless search feature.
posted by kuanes at 6:23 AM on September 18, 2016

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