Thursday, October 17, 2002

Columbus' police helicopters outnumber New York City's

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Police in cities many times larger say they wish their departments had as many helicopters as the seven used in Columbus.

Philadelphia - with more than double Columbus' 711,000 population - has two police helicopters. Even New York City, with 10 times more people in a land area 30 percent larger than Columbus, has just six.

Columbus' air-patrol fleet also surpasses those in Dallas, San Diego and other large cities, the Columbus Dispatch reported. Only Houston, with eight, had more among cities listed by the newspaper.

"I've used the Columbus model here to argue ... that the largest city in the country doesn't have nearly the number that we need," said Lt. Glenn Daley of the New York Police Department's aviation unit.

"I wish I had the money and infrastructure," said Officer Kevin Lee, a pilot with the Philadelphia police aviation unit. "If we had that many and they gave me the hours you fly, my (arrest and assist) stats would triple."

Other cities also have more limited flight times. While Columbus police have the pilots and aircraft for air patrols 16 hours a day, Philadelphia's helicopter use is limited to four hours daily and New York's to 10.

Cincinnati police rely on support from two helicopters owned by the Hamilton County sheriff's department.

Cleveland and Indianapolis each have two police helicopters. Pittsburgh and Chicago - with the nation's second-largest police department - have none.

David Bayless, spokesman for the 13,600-officer Chicago Police Department, said studies there indicated helicopters wouldn't pay off.

Columbus officials say other savings could offset the $1 million purchase price for each aircraft and the fleet's $1.75 million annual operating budget. The city started expanding its fleet by one helicopter a year starting in 1996. Pilots responded to more than 23,000 emergency calls last year.

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