Flying Low

Last Tuesday the Bernalillo County Commission approved $800,000 to be used to keep the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s helicopter in the air. My fellow Commissioners were then went on to approve another $500,000  that would be contingent upon a plan to “cost share” with the city and the federal government. Now while that may sound like a reasonable approach, it ignores a few very important realities not the least of which is that the county owns the most capable aircraft flying in Bernalillo County.

Right now, the Sheriff’s department will provide air support for roughly 10 hours a week. That’s all that the current budget of $1.3 million will allow. Unfortunately, there are certain basic costs associated with owning and being able to fly the two helicopters owned by the county. If you reduce the available budget by 38.5%, you’re not reducing flight time by 40%, you’re reducing it by over 50% and those 10 hours of availability per week shrink to less than 5.

“Back in 2007, then-Sheriff Darren White said the city and county were looking at combining air units because “to have two choppers up at the same time doesn’t make any sense.” Five years later, does having three?”  – ABQ Journal (Subscription)

That’s a very good question and the answer isn’t as straightforward as I would like. The City of Albuquerque can and does demonstrate a regular need for air support in the efforts to protect its citizens. The County can also demonstrate a need for air support for both law enforcement, and additionally for firefighting and search and rescue. Could the city with their equipment provide both services to residents in Albuquerque and the rest of the county? Probably not.

Both city and county officials will tell you that the APD helicopter is not designed for a mile high city such as Albuquerque which makes it difficult to operate during the day in summer, and nearly impossible to send to pluck a victim off the face of a 10,000 foot mountain. The bottom line is that the county owns and operates the two best birds for the missions required in the city and the county.

Combining the city’s capabilities with county’s is definitely a good idea and both APD and BCSO are coordinating flight hours. But the only way to save any money by combining the two air wings is to sell one of the helicopters. Which one would you sell?

“So it comes to this. If the county needs two choppers for legitimate law enforcement purposes, the Democratic majority on the commission should agree to fund them straight up and at an appropriate level. Not with questionable seizure cash. If not, they should get rid of one of them and justify the action to the public.” – ABQ Journal (Subscription)

Absolutely right. The Commission didn’t bat an eye when they were asked to provide $1.2 million for a pretrial services plan that said it would release sex offenders (read it here), why would they hesitate when asked to fully fund a program that makes the public safer?