Helicopter program can’t be cut

January 10, 2009

We knew it would happen.

It was just a matter of time.

The financial crunch has hit the Costa Mesa Police Department, and there are some unsavory proposals for cutting costs.

But Police Chief Chris Shawkey is right about one thing: He sure as heck doesn’t want to get rid of the city’s helicopter patrol program, which also serves Newport Beach and Santa Ana.

City leaders have instructed the heads of all city departments to look through their budgets for money to save, with the worsening economy forcing everyone to reduce expenses as revenues continue to decline.


City Manager Allan Roeder said he has asked the Police Department to find more than $420,000 to cut by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Translation: Nothing is safe.

The department is already disbanding its narcotics unit and reassigning those officers because the police already have a detective division available to make drug arrests.

But if the department axes its helicopter program, there are no replacement options in sight.

The program will cost the city more than $2.5 million by the end of June.

Costa Mesa and Newport Beach split the cost of the program, with Santa Ana throwing in a small amount to use the helicopter as needed.

More to the point, the helicopter is an invaluable tool of law enforcement.

“There’s a term we use — force multiplier,” Shawkey said. “Let’s say we have to check a large area, the chopper can do it with two people, where we’d have to use five or six officers on the ground.”

The program has been around since 1996. Costa Mesa provides four pilots and three part-time observers, Newport Beach provides three pilots, three mechanics and three part-time observers. Santa Ana provides one pilot and two observers.

And it works.

Having an aerial facet to your police force makes it that much difficult — sometimes impossible — for criminals to flee. Police have apprehended countless bad guys as a direct result of having aerial surveillance.

And that’s why Costa Mesa should look for other areas to save money, and leave this irreplaceable program alone.

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