City Leaders Vote To Replace Aging Police Helicopter Fleet

Houston City Council approves spending close to 17-million dollars for new helicopters for the police department. The purchase will replace the department's aging fleet and officers wil now patrol the city from the air nearly three times as often. Pat hernandez has the story.
The vote was not unanimous:

"Any discussion on this item? If not, all for it say I, oppose, no, NO. Council member Holm voting NO this item carries."

Council member Pam Holm said she had trouble balancing the merits of the program with expenditures:

"But I want everyone to know that it is not the program that is being questioned, it's my capacity to understanding the funding of it at this time."

But council collegues Toni Lawrence and Sue Lovell saw the need clearly:

"With this type of fleet, I think you're going to see a big help in the criminal stats as far as catching the bad guy. No other way to put it. This is still a can do city. It's a city of cutting edge and it's time for us to step up and do what we need to do. Those pilots have been out there with piece meal and band aids for too long. This should have been done years ago. It makes you feel good when you hear them over your neighborhood that they have the ability to find people. Also, I know the cost of fuel is very high but, when the helicopters go up, it actually saves you on the ground for the amount the cruisers that have to go through trying to find someone."

After another city cancelled its order for new helicopters, it gave the HPD an opportunity to jump ahead in line. Pilot Dan Schwarzbach, senior police officer and asst budget coordinator for the division says it is a huge step for the blue in the air:

"I've been flying for the department for twenty-three years. When I went to the division in 1985, we had 14 helicopters ad we had a lot more calls and caught a lot more suspects. However over time, the amount of helicopters and the amount of people in the division has decreased. So, this is really restoring of where we were over twenty years ago."

Council members Mike Sullivan and Peter Brown took a light hearted approach to the issue at HPD:

"I was a junior in high school when the first helicopter was purchased and still going in 1975. So, that's an old helicopter. I couldn't resist this but I wanted to make council member Sullivan feel better. I was in pre-kindergarten when the helicopter was invented.(laughter) I think this is a great move and that we all should support it. I think we're going to start to see the helicopter force that we have here adding a great deal to reducing crime in our city."

Mayor Bill White says council approved items that were not popular with past administrations....the new helicopters will save more lives...revised regulations giving citizens incentive to manage their false alarms and the energy code will mean significant savings in electricity.

Pat Hernandez. KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...