HPD Reduces Helicopter Use
The Houston Police Department has cut back its helicopter operations during the past year due to budget constraints. In particular, soaring fuel and maintenance costs contributed to the decision. Houston Police Officer's Union President Ray Hunt understands those costs as much as anyone.
"It's somewhere between 450 and 500 dollars an hour to operate one of these ships when they're up, and that gets very expensive," he tells KTRH. Still, the union would like to see the department restore funding for full helicopter operations.
The HPD no longer has a chopper continuously in the air for patrol operations, and the fleet is limited to three hours of daily flight time. Hunt says that is detrimental to the safety of the public and the officers. He points out that having choppers in the sky allows for a faster police response to crimes or safety hazards, and can help officers more easily search for suspects.
And that's just during the daylight. "At nighttime, the helicopters can light up areas where an officer is walking into a place where you may have an armed suspect, and (the chopper) may direct that officer toward that person in a safer manner," Hunt says.
Ultimately, decisions over helicopter funding must be made by the police chief, the mayor, and the city council. Hunt says the union is supportive of those entities and stands ready to work with them on the issue. "We understand that with budget cutbacks you have to be very frugal with your money, but we believe these helicopters are vital in our safety and we hope that they're flying more to give officers another eye from the sky."