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O.C. cities likely to cut back on police helicopter program

July 6, 2010 |  8:13 am

Both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa are likely to make significant cuts in their police helicopter program.

The joint helicopter program, called Airborne Law Enforcement (ABLE), is considered a key part of both cities' policing effort, and cuts in the amount of airborne time could hurt the departments' effectiveness, Costa Mesa Sgt. Tim Starn said.

The helicopter is considered a "force multiplier" by police because of its range of vision, quick response time and multiple tools. The Eagle can get from Newport Coast to Santa Ana in five minutes, find stolen cars through a LoJack signal from the air and detect body heat if a suspect is hiding in a backyard.

"There's going to be an impact; there's no question about it," Starn said. "I guarantee. Track the crime rate for the next year. I guarantee you it will increase."

Critics say that the ABLE program is too expensive to support while Costa Mesa and Newport Beach continue to trim budgets and try to avoid more layoffs and cuts to city services. The program costs more than $2 million, much of which goes to staffing, which is also being cut.

Newport Beach passed its budget with the ABLE funding intact from last year, but will likely adjust it in the coming weeks to match Costa Mesa's reductions, Starn said told the Daily Pilot.

Instead of having a day patrol shift and night patrol shift, pilots will now patrol once a day, he said. Officials will study crime trends in Newport-Mesa to determine when to patrol. The helicopter will patrol about 1,500 hours this year -- about half of last year's total.

Read the full story here.

-- Joseph Serna, Daily Pilot

Photo credit: Newport Beach Police Department