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

Categories: City Hall, Crime
Bell407.jpg
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.

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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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16 comments
Clell
Clell

This proves that any decision, even a bad one, can be justified with enough spin and half truths. It also proves that public safety is NOT a priority in Dallas, never has been and never will be. City Hall needs the money from the sale of this police helicopter to plant new flowers and shrubs in the median on Central Expressway. Who cares if the City is safe, just as long as it looks good.

trannyntraining
trannyntraining

why don't we just sell Dallas??? it may get us out of our cash problems...and then we could talk shit about it, without folks getting all in a tussy.

Diana Powe
Diana Powe

I spent more than 30 years with DPD and Richardson PD with all but a few of them being in patrol because that's what I truly loved. If I'd had my absolute free choice of police jobs, it would have been that of being a helicopter pilot with DPD. They are a blast, without doubt.

Having said that, police helicopters are a complete luxury and a very expensive luxury at that. The per hour cost of operating a helicopter, even a piston-powered one as suggested by Aviatus Rex, is very high while the actual benefits are quite modest. They're very nice in a pursuit, either vehicle or foot, but the blunt reality is that vehicle pursuits are increasingly being scrutinized for their high risk to the public and foot pursuits at night easily defeat the helicopter's perspective when the suspect runs under trees or similar objects.

From an outside perspective, the sale looks pretty reasonable.

Aviatus Rex
Aviatus Rex

Of course nobody is discussing why we need turbine powered helicopters anyway.  The cost of operating a piston engined Robinson R44 is a fraction of a turbine powered helicopter like a Jet Ranger or a Eurocopter.  That's why the local TV stations (except for WFAA) are now using R44s out of the Garland heliport.  In fact, so are many police departments nationwide. I think it's time for the city to look closely at those aviation costs and come up with a realistic plan to cut those costs.  Can we operate with civilian pilots at lower cost?  Leased aircraft instead of owning them?  Piston instead of turbine?  Would be nice if our city manager took a serious look at these costs and came up with ways to deliver the service in a more cost effective manner.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

Again, the City of Dallas doesnt know how to balance its budget or use common sense.  selling off police helicopters and other equipment, which may need to be used if, heaven forbid, a cataclysmic natural or man-made disaster hit the city is one of the dumbest ideas ive heard in the 35+ years ive been here. Instead, we should be looking at unloading millstones around our neck such as Dallas Farmers Market to private developers w/ deep pockets who can take the area and turn it into something we can all be proud of, which is to say a year-round destination similar to the LA Farmers Market..

Cityhallinsider
Cityhallinsider

How could the city save money? Laura Miller was told how the city could cut $15 million from the budget - without reducing services. Idea was ignored by city staff. Landfill could fetch up to $200 million. Steve Thompson's recent article on the IT department problems mentioned a number of audits that have not been acted on. You could easily find 100 or more police officers doing administrative tasks that could be handled by civilians. Huge savings there. Why do the police run the auto pound? Municipal Court is another sink hole. Farmer's Market has struggled for 30 years. Sell the land. I could go on. Someday someone will shake things up at city hall. Meantime it is business as usual.     

EP
EP

Didn't the City of Dallas use grant money from a charitable trust to buy these three copters in the first place?  (Communities Foundation of Texas?) So even before the recent financial apocalypse, the City was unwilling/able to properly fund the DPD.

Cityhallinsider
Cityhallinsider

You can expect to see a lot of these kinds of stories as Mary Suhm softens up the city council to find some way to raise revenue. There is another story today on libraries. By leaving services important to council districts out of her initial budget she can pressure council members.  A better approach would be to order the manager to create a budget that doesn't cut things like pools or rec centers. The waste and inefficiency at city hall is well documented in auditor's reports with millions in savings easily obtained without cutting services.   

Amy S
Amy S

I think LA's might be owned by the County of Los Angeles, a much, much larger area than Dallas, plus they have a mountain range to deal with in the middle of their city.

Cityhallinsider
Cityhallinsider

Excellent point. The city manager isn't going to look at anything that would cause controversy or require changing the way the city has done business for decades. Time for a breath of fresh air at city hall. 

scottindallas
scottindallas

Chris, I disagree with you on the whirly-birds.  We can put a cop in each of these newscopters and we suddenly have many at our disposal.

cp
cp

Yes, they didn't pull money from the general fund. What "savings" the CM is talking about now is obviously O&M costs. Still, this fact should be pointed out to people such as the poster "Guest" above who thinks that money grows on taxpayer trees.

Guest
Guest

So what, pray tell, would you cut?  Nothing vague like "waste."  What specific programs or budgets would you cut?  Which employees would you fire?  What services would you stop?  How much would your cuts save?  The reality is that if the city council doesn't find ways to raise revenue, there isn't any choice but to cut programs that one or more of the council districts support.   

cp
cp

Uh didn't they already vote for a tax increase?

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

How about the Money we gave That guy for his studio south of town? 

cp
cp

Oh but he said not to say things like "waste".....

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