A chase that led Indianapolis police across the city for more than an hour Wednesday night is highlighting the department's lack of support from the air.
Law enforcement agencies across the country use helicopters to get to crime scenes faster, cover more ground than squad cars and increase the chances of making an arrest, particularly in the case of high-speed pursuits.
But Indianapolis police sold its turbine-powered, high-tech helicopter and three other aircraft to keep a 43-year-old helicopter in the hangar, 6News' Jack Rinehart reported.
Still, records show the department hasn't logged an hour since December 2009, down from 1,100 hours in 2007, and the remaining helicopter won't be airworthy until October or November due to repairs.
"The state of the Indianapolis police aviation unit is enough to really cause worry," said Peter Beering, a public safety consultant.
The department cites the high price of maintenance, insurance and operating expenses, which topped $300,000 in 2009, for grounding the helicopter.
"It's a great program. It's costly, but it's a great program," said Mike Bates with IMPD Homeland Security. "The whole point of selling the 600 (helicopter) was strictly to fund that if we develop a schedule of hours per year."
By comparison, police in Phoenix, the nation's largest capital city, flew nearly 5,000 hours in 2010, while Columbus, Ohio, few 4,500 hours last year.
Beering said he believes the department would benefit from an operational aviation outfit.
"In an era of tight budgets and needing to maximize your investment, there is no question that a helicopter is an ideal tool," he said. "At the end of the day, it's the citizen that loses because we don't have the equipment flying."
Officials with the Indianapolis Department of Public Safety said there are no plans to fund the aviation unit once money from the sale of the other helicopters runs out.
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