By: Melina Matthes
OMAHA (kptm) - They can get anywhere in the city in less than 6 minutes. They travel at 150 miles per hour on a regular basis. We're talking about Omaha’s police helicopter.
Many say ABLE 1 is a valuable tool in fighting against crime. The "Air Borne Law Enforcement” unit helps track criminals, find stolen cars and locate missing boaters, but some say it's a waste of our tax dollars.
With budgets around the city sky high and money being thrown to the wind, Fox 42 News took a look inside our city's eye in the sky to see if the city should keep it.
Last year, ABLE 1 went to nearly 11,000 calls and chased 164 crooks, but everything they do, we as taxpayers pay for.
Two helicopters alone cost roughly $2.6 million. To overhaul the engine? $25,000. A new rotor? $22,000.
Some say, not everything they do should come out of our pockets.
Just like any other Omaha police officer, the pilots of ABLE 1 spend their nights watching over us. “It’s the same job, just a different view,” Pilot, Matt Baughman said.
They do the same as a cruiser, travel around and look for crime, but in addition to covering Omaha, they also check surrounding counties. “We can cover so much area and we can do the work of numerous cruisers. What would take them an hour we can do in minutes just from our vantage point,” Pilot, Jason Messerschmidt said.
Literally minutes. It would take nearly a month for a person on foot to search a mile. ABLE 1 can do it in 12 minutes and if a criminal drops a bag of drugs, they say they’ll find it. “Second party just tossed something else out…”
As well as direct officers to where the drugs are stashed, “it’s going to be about 10 yards straight ahead of you, you’re walking right towards it…”
And if a criminal takes off running, they can track them. “Looks like he’s gong to bale. He’s about the 9200 block of Mockingbird. He’s stopped and passenger and driver are running southbound through the snow…”
But when the pilots aren’t chasing outlaws and speeders, “he’s driving into oncoming traffic now. There’s no cruisers around and he’s doing 100 mph on the wrong side of the road…”
They check on city parks and schools, as well as back up officers down below. “You’d be surprised at how many traffic stops you can see when you’re up at night. If we see traffic stops, we’ll go to those and back up the officers with the spotlight,” Lieutenant Mike Davis said.
But some say they don’t think the helicopters are being used properly. “It’s made to police; to protect and serve. If that’s what they’re doing then I’m okay with it. If it’s used when they feel it’s necessary and not when the community feels it’s necessary, then I think it’s not being used properly,” Derrick Anderson said.
Several times a year ABLE 1 flys to local events and schools, however Anderson said it’s not a toy. “This is not a joke. It’s not a game. It’s not something kids can get in and play in. Not like a fire truck because you can go to the fire truck. They’re bringing this helicopter to people and that costs money and that costs us as working citizens a lot of money,” Anderson said.
Lieutenant Davis said he operates his crew within budget. “My dad told me to spend the money like it’s your money and I do. I spend it like it’s my own money. We buy what we need, not what we want.”
Each time the chopper goes up, money comes out of our pocket. Lieutenant Davis said an hour in the sky costs about $400, but he said the pilots won’t just go up for a few minutes. The rule of thumb? No matter why they go up, they have to remain in the air for at least an hour. “Aviation costs money and I don’t blame anybody for thinking it’s expensive but it’s my job to make sure that the citizens of Omaha are having their tax dollars well spent.”
Lieutenant Davis said any flight training the pilots go through is paid for through grants. He said extra equipment for the helicopter, like the spotlight and infrared camera, were donated.
He said Omaha needs the police helicopter. He said they have a 50% higher arrest rate if the chopper takes over a pursuit and the officers on the ground back off.
Lt. Davis also said many don’t realize that the pilots can land and help the officers on the ground. Each pilot is a trained police officer and has at least three years experience on the street.
If you would like to get to know the pilots of ABLE 1 even better, you can do so online. They are active on Twitter. Follow them at https://twitter.com/OPDABLE1
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