Saturday, May 03, 2014

Austin Police Department Helicopter: How Your $ Is Spent

 It's the eye in the sky. Lieutenant Kurt Rothert is entrusted with nearly $4 million dollars of your taxpayer money. 

 "We've been given a very important asset and we take it very seriously," said Rothert.

That's the cost of the Austin Police Department's newest chopper. The B3 has all the bells and whistles and it's getting a lot of air time.

 "We can get to calls faster than the guys on the ground many times," added Rothert.

According to public records obtained by KEYE TV, the helicopter has been dispatched 345 times over the past three months -- most of them search missions.

"It's a work horse that can get a job done in a matter of minutes," said APD chief Art Acevedo.

In a city where traffic is hindering response times.

"As I'm talking to you looking out my window traffic is bumper to bumper on I-35 and its 2:30 PM well our officers have to get through that traffic as well," added Acevedo.

So they're sending up the helicopter when minutes make a difference.

And get this; any officer can request air support. Lieutenant Rothert defends that practice.

"My guys in my unit are very contentious. We don't go fly just to fly. We make sure it's necessary," said Rothert.

And they're keeping the public posted on Twitter using the hash tag "what the helicopter."

Some people love it and others don't. Acevedo takes the public's comments in stride.

"Is there some sarcasm maybe but I think the majority of people are thankful we're being responsive," said Acevedo.

The state-of-the-art chopper isn't just tracking crime; it's got a bambi bucket that can be used to dump hundreds of gallons of water on a fire. 

"It's not if but when will we have that huge fire storm that is coming to Austin and this will be an asset we will have at our control," added Acevedo.

Able to aid neighboring communities in need of help when fire fighters are tied up. It costs the Austin Police Department nearly $1.5 million per year to operate the air unit.

And with a total operating budget of close to $300 million, the chief plans to keep the helicopter in flight.

"Although it's an investment the returns you can't put a dollar figure on it," claimed Acevedo.

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