Dallas PD Goes to Great Lengths to Defend Selling Its Biggest Helicopter For $1.4 Mil

Back in mid-June we attempted to make an offer on a Bell 407 helicopter, which was being auctioned off by the city. But the bids piled up, and after 60 the $985,000 starting price climbed to $1,467,500, which was $1,467,500 out of our price range. And, besides, the Dallas Police Department, which had bought the whirlybird and two smaller Bells in '07 following an '04 study condemning the department's aerial fleet, was stripping all the good stuff from it anyway -- the Spectrolab SX16 Nightsun, the Avalex Mapping System and cameras, for starters.

At the time DPD Chief David Brown defended the sale thusly: "It's not the kind of luxury the city can afford." He and City Manager Mary Suhm, who last summer got the DPD to make myriad budget-saving concessions, made the same point in a pay-walled News front-page follow-up Tuesday; both also insisted that leaving the DPD with but two eggbeaters was fine since it wasn't used as often as its smaller counterparts, though Tanya Eiserer suggested maybe not. "The move would leave Dallas with one of the smallest police helicopter fleets among the nation's largest cities," she wrote. "Los Angeles has 19; Houston, 13; Phoenix, seven; San Antonio, five; and San Diego, four. Fort Worth, Atlanta and Philadelphia each have two."

The back-and-forth continues: Late yesterday the DPD posted to its Facebook page a lengthy explanation beneath the headline "Sale of Helicopter Saves Jobs." Twenty, says Brown, who says he doesn't care how many helicopters L.A. has. That's not the point.

Budget cuts are never easy, but when faced with the chance to save jobs in the current economy the police department will choose men and women over the machines. "In a tight budget, if you've got to reduce your costs, I think the public would rather see officers in their neighborhoods," said Chief Brown.

The whole thing follows.

Sale of Helicopter Saves Jobs

When the economic crisis of 2008 struck, many companies in both the private and public sector were forced to take a long hard look at their budgets. The Dallas Police Department, as all other city departments, was asked to suggest possible cost saving measures. After a review of its operations, the police department decided to sell the Bell 407 helicopter.

Dallas is not the only city to have made a difficult decision regarding its helicopter unit - Colorado Springs Police cut their entire helicopter unit. Tulsa PD completely dismantled their helicopter and mounted units. San Bernardino Police also cut its contract with its helicopter service. While these decisions were painful to make, for each department, they came down to saving jobs. This is also the case with the Dallas Police.

Some major police departments were able to maintain their helicopter fleets, but found cuts in other departments. The City of Los Angeles elected to allow the police department to keep its 13 helicopters, opting instead to cut fire engine teams and some ambulances at one fourth of their fire stations. Dallas chose to sell the helicopter in order to have the least impact on overall public safety.

The Dallas Police Bell 407 helicopter was recently sold for $1.4 million. That translates into 20 jobs which were spared in this budget cycle. "I would rather sell the helicopter than lay off 20 or more people to balance the budget," said Chief David Brown.

Various news reports compare Dallas' fleet to that of other major cities. Houston has 13 helicopters while Dallas would only have two. Houston's fleet budget was recently reduced 75% in fuel costs which means that while Houston may have more choppers, their flying time has been reduced from 20 hours to three hours a day. Dallas' routine flying time is 4-6 hours a day and when not on routine patrol, the fleet is still on standby and available as needed. Dallas will maintain this standard even after the sale of the Bell 407.

Other factors largely absent from these reports are a comparison of the terrain and environment of these cities which boast larger helicopter units. Los Angeles is flanked on its western side by the Pacific Ocean and bordered on its eastern front by mountains. The possibility of conducting ocean or mountain rescues dictates Los Angeles using the larger transport helicopters on a regular basis. Houston maintains larger helicopters due to the hurricane issues it encounters. Dallas, on the other hand, does not have the ocean, mountain or hurricane factors which would support maintaining a larger transport aircraft.

The Bell 407 was introduced in 2007 as the newest rescue tool for transporting people to and from areas difficult to reach during operations. Since the purchase, the police department has been involved in several high profile events - the NBA All Star Game, the NBA Finals and the Super Bowl. During these events, the Bell 407 was never needed for the purpose for which it was purchased. The department learned much about helicopter operations and other resources that would be available during large scale events. "We have a regional approach to public safety and we have determined that we have other resources we can reach out to save us from having to own something of that nature like the helicopter," Chief Brown said. "I am confident there is more than adequate transport helicopter equipment available to the North Texas region from our state, federal, military and other municipal law enforcement agencies for the purpose of supporting public safety for the citizens of Dallas."

Budget cuts are never easy, but when faced with the chance to save jobs in the current economy the police department will choose men and women over the machines. "In a tight budget, if you've got to reduce your costs, I think the public would rather see officers in their neighborhoods," said Chief Brown.

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