The Los Angeles Police Department Web site brags that it has “the largest municipal airborne law enforcement operation in the world,” with 17 helicopters and one airplane. In the last year and a half, reports the Los Angeles Times, Police Chief William Bratton has tapped the fleet 29 times to ferry him to events throughout the city and state. The average operating cost of a city helicopter is $400 per hour, and $550 an hour for the department’s Beechcraft King Air 200 turboprop, which can carry eight or more passengers. A two-hour round trip to Sacramento last month cost the city more than $1,100, a little more than a commercial flight on Southwest Airlines.
Bratton argues that time is money and the taxpayers get more productivity from him when he is not stuck in traffic or waiting to pass the security screener at the airport. “The Los Angeles police chief’s access to helicopters and planes to travel across the city, and occasionally the state, is vital,” Bratton said. “The size of the city, the amount of traffic and the demand on my schedule make the aircraft a cost-effective, practical solution to staying in touch and making myself more accessible.” Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said taxpayers have a right to expect the chief to watch the cost of out-of-town flights. The group questions whether the use of a city airplane “is justified in this situation,” Coupal said.