Modesto Star SAFIRE 380-HD Air Program Revolutionizes the Skies

About 4 years ago, the Modesto Police Department in California was looking for a smart way to augment the needs of law enforcement officers. A resource in the air, they theorized, would enhance officer safety while providing better support for the citizens of Modesto. To prove their case, they invested in a small gyrocopter, which quickly gained traction—much more ground was covered at an economical price.

Throughout the initial 6-month testing phase, the department was able to prove its effectiveness with increased response time to calls and a steep decline in street chases and pursuits, but the department still found themselves limited by the gyrocopter’s size and sensor capabilities, including a lack of thermal sensing.

That’s when an offer from the other side of the country changed everything.

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Through a connection in the air support community, Modesto was put in touch with the Pennsylvania Attorney General, which was selling a turnkey GippsAero GA8, the same plane used by the California Highway Patrol’s Air Support Program. This particular aircraft was already fitted with a Teledyne FLIR Star SAFIRE 380-HD, which would be key in transforming air support in Modesto.

The unit was originally designed primarily for surveillance tasks, but the Modesto PD worked directly with Teledyne FLIR Defense to adapt the system to work well within the aircraft for specific law enforcement needs. The aircraft proved to be perfect for the camera and its new objectives, with its slower flying profile and durable design that allows it to orbit the city and effectively carry out tasks that are much more difficult and time-consuming on the ground, such as spotting stolen cars and guiding safer, shorter, and more precise pursuits of suspects, many of which don’t realize they’re being pursued at all.

In one memorable case, a suspect fled from the CHP on his motorcycle, and didn’t realize he was being followed from the sky. Officers were able to safely apprehend him when he pulled over miles away at a rural orchard to empty his bladder, much to the shock and surprise of the suspect.


“One piece of equipment can change the entire culture of the department by vastly improving safety.”

The success of the Air Support Program isn’t limited to the response times and resource management for officers, it’s also been credited with slowly changing the culture of the department by challenging everyone to evaluate tactics, including how to conduct foot-chases and how people are contained. By proving the safety, speed and effectiveness of working with thetechnology, ground units are now routinely contacting and coordinating with the air unit to better carry out their missions.

“One piece of equipment can change the entire culture of the department by vastly improving the safety for officers and citizens involved,” said Modesto Police Department Sergeant Mike Hicks. That culture shift has continued to work its way deeper into the larger community, as the Star SAFIRE 380-HD and the Air Support Program have become regional assets that commonly work with Federal agencies, and other state agencies, including local fire departments.

After initially collaborating with Teledyne FLIR teams to refine the 380-HD to their needs, the Modesto Police Department has provided glowing reviews for the ongoing support from the teams within Surveillance. “I can’t think of any better customer service than we have with Teledyne FLIR,” Hicks noted, with a special shout-out to the Service departments in both Wilsonville and West Malling. "Everyone in the Service departments have been amazing and continues to provide a phenomenal experience. That just doesn’t happen with most other companies.”

We’re grateful to the work being done Modesto Air Support Program and the entire Department, saving lives every day with safer, more effective surveillance solutions.

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