Friday, February 12, 2010

IMPD Helicopters: Where Did the Money Go?

From Fox 59 News:

INDIANAPOLIS - In 2009 they cost 1.2 million to operate. Some police tell Fox59 they're angry at the cuts saying the copters are an important tool in the police toolbox to fight crime. They say Mayor Ballard campaigned policing and community safety was his number one priority.

"Yes, it concerns me a lot how are they going to catch the criminal if they don't have helicopters," said Brenda Kent, an eastside resident.

"He's actually not living up to what he said," said Janice Hall, an eastside resident. "Sometimes (politicians) say what they have to say, just to get elected."

The helicopters were reportedly used to track convicted murderer Brian Reese who shot officer Jason Fishburn and hunt for the two killers in the Hamilton Avenue Murders.

"They should find the money for it. They shouldn't cut it," said Hall.

Mayor Ballard would not comment directly on the apparent cuts saying he has never wavered in his commitment to public safety and the citizens of Indianapolis.

Public Safety director Frank Straub said the helicopters are extremely expensive to operate and there must be clarity about their effectives.

State police maintain four helicopters at an annual operating cost of about 1.4 million dollars.

Other Midwest cities have helicopters including Columbus that has six, Louisville that has one, Chicago has two.

There's a few interesting tidbits in this story, as well as a theory that I have about where this money went.

First, it's important to remember that the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is one of the few that walked out as winners of the 2010 city-county budget. Their funds actually increased. So the premise that budget cuts are hurting them are ridiculous. $1.2 million magically vanished. It's much more likely that it was shuffled elsewhere.

Mayor Greg Ballard, when introducing the budget to the City-County Council way back in 2009, said that a federal grant would cover hiring and training new officers. A separate grant the city applied for, but did not know if they got at the time the budget was approved, would cover the cars. It was later discovered that IMPD didn't have a ghost of a chance at the $1.7 million grant, as seen in this previous post.

The city has also stepped up their efforts on collecting parking citations, as documented by WISH-TV. In a box to the left side of the story, it notes that the city would like to use $1.3 million to purchase 20 new cop cars.

My theory is the city is combining the money marked for the IMPD helicopters and money collected from the parking citations into a pool to pay for the new IMPD vehicles. It makes sense, since parking citation money goes into the general fund after T-2, the company that manages the Parking "Court", takes their cut.

But the best part of the story is the State Police operate twice as many helicopters for less money, $1.2 million instead of $1.4. I'd sure like to know why that is.

One of the comments on another blog said this could be an ideal situation for IMPD and State Police to pool their resources for this very expensive equipment. I'd rather that happen than have two helicopters just sit and collect dust, especially in light of the fairly high homicide rate we had in January.

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