A budget crisis in Denver is endangering the police department’s helicopter unit, the Rocky Mountain News reports. “We’re looking for ways to scale back big-ticket items we can live without for a while, until this budget situation turns around,” Police Chief Gerry Whitman said. “Operating the helicopter costs almost a half-million dollars a year. It’s like maintaining a really big lawn mower.”
Not surprisingly, those who fly the helicopter say that it can thwart high-speed chases, photograph crime scenes and flush out suspects. “We have the only (police) helicopter in the region,” said Bob Bosworth, chief pilot of the Denver Police Department’s air-support unit. “It’s also an invaluable tool not only from a safety standpoint, but also from the standpoint of helping the cops on the ground.”
But Denver has a $47 million budget shortfall, and Mayor John Hickenlooper has called for grounding the helicopter unit, except in emergencies, and reassigning its pilots to patrol cars. The move is expected to save $851,920 next year. Overall, the police department is proposing to trim $1.4 million from its $111 million operating budget next year. The mayor wants to eliminate the horse-mounted unit that patrols downtown Denver.
The News says there seems to be little support for saving the helicopter. “When you compare other budget issues we’re dealing with, the helicopter is something that could be put to the side,” City Council President Elbra Wedgeworth said. “Having cops on the streets and in the schools is far more important.”