Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel said, "I'm tickled to death" about using the drone, pointing out that in his years of police work he could imagine countless incidents having ended more quickly and easily.
"It's so simple in its design and the objectives, you just wonder why anyone would choose not to have it," said McDaniel.
At the same time Houston police were testing a different drone, the Miami-Dade Metro Police department was also taking test flights of a helicopter UAV, and the Federal Aviation Administration said that department is now using its drone for local police work.
The San Diego Police Department also made local headlines in 2008 for beginning its own flights with a fixed-wing UAV.
But Les Dorr, an FAA spokesman in Washington, said very few local police departments actually have the required certificate of authorization (COA) to fly police missions nationwide.
He said Montgomery County is the first COA by a local police department in all of Texas.
In September 2008, the Government Accountability Office issued a 73-page report that raised issues about police drones endangering airspace for small planes or even commercial airliners.
The report's author, Gerald Dillingham, told Local 2 Investigates that 65 percent of the crashes of military drones on the battlefield were caused by mechanical failures.
He said a police UAV could lose its link to the ground controllers if wind knocks the aircraft out of range or the radio frequencies are disrupted.
"If you lose that communication link as the result of that turbulence or for any other reason, then you have an aircraft that is not in control and can in fact crash into something on the ground or another aircraft," said Dillingham.
Pilots of small planes expressed those concerns in the original 2007 Local 2 Investigates reporting on police drones, and the FAA reported then that police departments across the country were lining up to apply for their own drones.
At Montgomery County, Franklin said an onboard GPS system is designed to keep the UAV on target and connected with the ground controllers. He said coordinates are plotted in advance and a command is given for the UAV to fly directly to that spot, adjusting to turbulence and other factors. He said he and the other controller can alter "waypoints" quickly on the laptop to move the chopper to areas that had not previously been mapped out. He said the aircraft moves at a speed of 30 knots, which he said makes it unsuitable for police pursuits.
Small aircraft pilots have expressed concerns that drones cannot practice the "see and avoid" rule that keeps aircraft from colliding in mid-air. Since the camera may be aimed somewhere else, pilots said police controllers may not be able to see and avoid other aircraft in the area during a sudden police emergency.
Gage said he would take every concern into account as his UAV is deployed.
The only routine law enforcement flights inside the United States over the past four years have been the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Their border flights over Texas and Arizona have included one crash, where the drone lost its link to the ground controller.