Texas Jettisons 'Rain of Death' Helicopter Policy

"Four months after a helicopter-borne Texas Department of Public Safety trooper mistakenly shot and killed two immigrants in the back of a fleeing pickup near the Mexican border, the agency has banned shooting from helicopters in similar scenarios.

DPS Director Steve McCraw told members of the Texas House Appropriations Committee on Thursday that the move wasn’t spurred by the shooting, which is under review by the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s office and federal agencies, including the FBI.

“This is not a reflection on what happened there,” McCraw said. “I’m a firm believer they did exactly what they thought they needed to do.”

But he added, “I’m convinced now that from a helicopter platform we shouldn’t shoot unless being shot at or if someone (else) is being shot at.”

The Oct. 25 shooting outside the town of La Joya triggered a torrent of criticism, including from law enforcement experts who say firing at moving targets from the air is too risky.  The DPS is the only state law enforcement agency along the Southwestern border that allows the practice.

The new policy, quietly adopted by the DPS last week but not disclosed until Thursday, would still allow troopers to shoot from aircraft if a “suspect has used or is about to use deadly force by use of a deadly weapon.”  But aggressive or reckless driving wouldn’t constitute using a deadly weapon, meaning the new policy apparently would have prohibited the Hidalgo County shooting." - Austin American-Statesman, Feb. 21, 2013.