Long a familiar fixture for police agencies, police helicopter units have fallen victim to municipal budget cuts this year, reports the New York Times. The Colorado Springs, Co., police department grounded its copters in late December. Tulsa, Ok., and Oakland, Ca., also shut down their units in recent months, as have smaller departments. It costs a city about $500 an hour per helicopter for fuel and maintenance when they are in the air, said Darryl Kimball, a pilot with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
Police officials say that the decisions have been made grudgingly and that helicopters, which typically hold a pilot and an observer, have long been a critical resource, alerting officers on the ground of a suspect's whereabouts and hidden dangers. Kimball said news media reports over the last year said that medium and smaller police agencies were more likely to cut their aviation units to avoid layoffs.