Helicopter For Will Co. Sheriff's Office? 'Nothing Is Set In Stone'

JOLIET, IL — Within the next couple of years, Joliet area residents may start to notice a helicopter regularly flying over the region, a helicopter operated by the Will County Sheriff’s Office.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Dan Jungles told Joliet Patch that Sheriff Mike Kelley’s administration continues to study the feasibility of adding an aviation component in the form of a helicopter to the sheriff’s department’s fleet.

“We do have several drones that we operate,” Jungles told Patch. “This would be just on a much grander scale, the technology of a helicopter far exceeds that of a drone. With the equipment they have on these helicopters now, you can lock onto a moving car from miles away.

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“I think all the area police departments in the county, and even state agencies and federal agencies would benefit, if we were to get this.”

Jungles emphasized the Will County Sheriff’s helicopter plans have not been finalized and a lot more needs to happen before their first helicopter is obtained. The sheriff’s office has been working with Bell, one of the nation’s premier companies, for designing police helicopters.

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“We’re in the infancy stages of exploring the possibility of getting this. Nothing is set in stone,” Jungles told Joliet Patch.

Still, the sheriff’s office is serious about adding a helicopter to the department during the current four-year term of Kelley.

As of this month, the sheriff’s office has not determined the funding source to purchase a helicopter. There has been discussions about the possibility of utilizing civil forfeiture money that was seized from drug dealers and other criminals, Jungles noted.

The sheriff’s office still intends to pursue available grant funding.

He said it’s still premature to talk about the costs. After all, it’s not just the purchase of a new helicopter, but there’s fuel costs, training, hiring pilots and finding a hangar to store it.

“I know economics is a main concern,” Jungles said. “We’re at step two out of 100 regarding the potential startup. We have not had any formals talks at the County Board level.”

Jungles credited Sheriff Kelley for envisioning the concept of adding a helicopter to the Will County Sheriff’s Office.

In nearby northwestern Indiana, the Lake County Police Department has at least three helicopters. Lake County has had its aviation unit since 1979, according to its website.

Jungles said he and a Will County sergeant toured Lake County’s aviation facility on March 11, 2022, and returned to Joliet agreeing “it might be something we can look into.”
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“Their department is similar in size to ours,” Jungles said of Lake County, Indiana. “The only difference is terrain. They’re right up to Lake Michigan.”

Will County will not purchase a used helicopter, Jungles said.

He envisions working with Bell to custom design a new helicopter for Will County.

“The build time on a helicopter is about a year to a year and a half,” Jungles said.

Jungles said that Bell offers various helicopter packages, including “an all-inclusive deal where they supply a pilot” as well as provide the fuel, training and hangar.

According to its website, “Bell is a trusted partner for public safety operators across the globe. We developed and fielded the world’s first police helicopter more than 73 years ago. Bell is still partnered with that same agency today, as well as hundreds more across 6 continents. “

Jungles said Chicago’s Police Department has helicopters, but the Illinois State Police does not. The Illinois State Police have a fixed wing aircraft. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is also looking into the use of helicopters for their agency, Jungles said.

He said that police helicopters are common on the East and West Coasts, but not the Midwest. Jungles said there are police helicopters in St. Louis.

In terms of use, the Will County Sheriff’s helicopter could be used for patrols and searching for criminal suspects trying to avoid capture. The helicopter could help with chases along the interstates and to look for missing persons.

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