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Will CSPD's helicopters ever return? Mayor says not likely. - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Will CSPD's helicopters ever return? Mayor says not likely.

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It's been nearly a decade since the City of Colorado Springs abandoned its police helicopter program during the Great Recession.  Ask any Colorado Springs police officer and they'll tell you they miss the police helicopters.  But as much as they wish they would return, current city leaders aren't eager to bring them back anytime soon, if ever.

"Definitely there are some criminals getting away from us," said Colorado Springs Police Lt. Dan Lofgren, pilot of the CSPD helicopters at the time they were decommissioned in 2010.

Pursuits of fleeing suspects are a staple of any policing agency.  While they are compelling, high-drama television, they are also among the most dangerous activity police can do.  Helicopters help make the pursuits safer and with a much higher success rate of capture.  Colorado Springs had two such helicopters for 14 years, from 1996 to 2010.  But the economic downturn made the eyes in the sky expendable.

"Helicopters went away from the Colorado Springs Police Department for one basic reason: budget," Mayor John Suthers told News 5.  At a cost of nearly $4 million per year, the helicopter program went dark, leaving pilot Lofgren grounded.  When asked if he misses it, Lofgren replied, "I do."

Lofgren says helicopters provide major advantages over boots on the ground.  "That one observer in the aircraft, using state-of-the-art equipment, is equivalent to so many officers on the ground," Lofgren said.  "A great example of that would be searching for a lost child.  It may take a dozen officers several hours to search a laid-out grid search to look for a lost child, when it would actually take the aircraft much less time, maybe even under an hour."

Even so, odds of restoring an aerial enforcement fleet anytime soon appear slim to none.

"We cannot, realistically, be talking about things like helicopters and things like that," Suthers said.  His priority right now is adding 120 new officers over the next five years.  "Chief (Pete) Carey thinks staffing is a critical issue, so that's number one and I think aerial law enforcement is pretty far down the list."

Drones are a much cheaper option and departments nationwide are beginning to use them, including Fountain Police.  But Lofgren says their potential is limited.  Drones have to be driven to a scene, unpacked, launched, and kept in sight from the ground, all while complying with strict FAA regulations.  "You can't fly the drone out of sight, you can't fly the drone at night, you can't fly it without specific waivers within five miles of an airport," Lofgren said.

Lofgren says helicopters are also a crime deterrent, with criminals less likely to act if they know a helicopter can track their movement from above.  "You're getting on-scene quicker," Lofgren said.  "A lot of times, that will result in an arrest that would take days, years, maybe never, to make."

Planes are another, less-expensive option, but they're not as nimble as helicopters and require runways to take off and land.  Outside of drones, aerial law enforcement for CSPD will remain dormant for the indefinite future.  "I personally don't think, realistically, we're going to see any kind of a return to that in the future," Suthers said.

"I think someday we're really going to have to go that way again," Lofgren countered.

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