Friday, October 20, 2017

Riverside County, California: Find out how police will benefit from a $982,870 airplane

Criminals who become smug when they don’t hear the chop-chop-chop of a Riverside police helicopter overhead could be in for a surprise.

The Police Department hopes to have an airplane flying above the city in November after the City Council approved the purchase on Tuesday, Oct. 17. The department primarily plans to use the airplane for surveillance of narcotics traffickers, gang members and large events, and secondarily patrol, Deputy Chief Larry Gonzalez said.

The $982,870 airplane — which comes fully equipped for law enforcement purposes — will be cheaper to operate than a helicopter, Gonzalez said.

“The biggest thing is No. 1, to be able to stay up in the air twice as long and stay up in the air twice as high. We’re up in a plane 4,500 feet a couple of miles away, and being able to do good surveillance without people knowing we’re there,” Gonzalez said in an interview.

He also told council members: “(It) also might cut down on some of your complaints from your constituents on how loud the helicopter is.”

Aviation Sgt. Erik Lindgren test-flew the plane and gave it high marks.

The plane is equipped with a color and infrared camera that can deliver sharp, high-resolution color images from 6 to 9 miles away to officers on the ground.

It will be staffed by a pilot and an observer.

The plane will benefit other agencies as well, a report to the council said, including Inland Crackdown Allied Task Force/Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, Riverside County Transportation Commission and the Corona Police Department. Corona contracts with Riverside for air patrol.

Riverside has three helicopters, one 34 years old with 11,518 flight hours, another 21 years old with 12,834 flight hours and one 8 years old with 5,226 flight hours. The estimated cost to maintain all three over the next five years is $2.6 million. The estimated cost to operate a helicopter is more than $400 per hour; the estimated cost to operate an airplane is $190 per hour, the report said.

The plan to pay for the airplane includes selling the oldest helicopter.

Jim Bueermann, president of The Police Foundation, which tries to improve policing through analysis and training, said most major law enforcement agencies have airplanes.

“If they are going to use the plane for narcotics or other criminal investigation surveillance, then a plane is much better to use than a helicopter. They’re less expensive to operate and more effective in long-term surveillance,” he said.

Redlands police purchased an airplane — law enforcement calls them fixed-wing aircraft — when Bueermann was chief. The department wanted to create air support for officers and improve its surveillance ability, and it found an airplane cheaper to operate than a helicopter.

With the amount of airplane traffic in Southern California, Bueermann said, “One plane looks like the other. The general public will probably never notice that the plane is up there.”

Riverside’s $982,870 airplane purchase

Where the money will come from to buy the new plane.

$400,000: Sale of helicopter

$382,870: Reallocation of Measure Z funds – unused police vehicle lease dollars

$135,000: Police evidence trust account

$65,000: State asset forfeiture account, such as money seized from drug dealers

Story and photo gallery ➤

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