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Council considers 2nd police helicopter

CTY-ROBINSON-R-44-HELICOPTER-2

After 2,200 hours of use, the aircraft will have to be returned to Robinson Helicopter Co. in Torrance, Calif.

RHC Enlarge

Some members of Toledo City Council yesterday urged the police department to begin hunting for federal grants for a second helicopter for the day when Air One has to be sent back to the factory for an overhaul.

After 2,200 hours of use, the aircraft will have to be returned to Robinson Helicopter Co. in Torrance, Calif.

The overhaul takes four months, Lt. Leo Eggert, the police aviation unit commander, told council's public safety committee.

Lieutenant Eggert said the required overhaul on the Robinson R44 probably would occur in 2004.

He said the chopper would be disassembled and reassembled with reconditioned or new parts through the assembly line.

“Three to four months is the quoted time. If you order a new one, that's what it takes,” Lieutenant Eggert said.

The manufacturer did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Committee members said they were pleased with the helicopter so far in ending hot pursuits, catching fleeing suspects, and searching for missing people.

“Four months is a long time to be without a police helicopter,” Councilman George Sarantou, who recently took a ride in the helicopter, said. “We should aggressively pursue any grants out there.”

Council members Wilma Brown and Rob Ludeman also voiced support for acquiring a backup helicopter.

Lieutenant Eggert said the alternative to buying a chopper is a lease. He said it would be $400 an hour, and would not include the city's police equipment.

Toledo acquired the helicopter in September, 2001, for $504,000, paid for with a federal grant. A new one would cost about the same, he said.

Since then, Lieutenant Eggert has helped train three other patrol officers. He said the officers are reaching the level of expertise where they can fly the aircraft without him along.

The crew has responded to 1,037 calls and was involved in 20 foot pursuits, all of which ended with the suspect in custody, Lieutenant Eggert said.

Life Flight, an air ambulance service operated by St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center and Medical College of Ohio Hospitals, provides free maintenance labor and hangar and office space.

The helicopter has been flown 417 hours and is in the air between three and four hours daily.

Eventually, the goal is to have the helicopter in use from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., when crimes and pursuits are most common.

Lieutenant Eggert said the chopper has been valuable in pursuits, and its mere presence has been enough to persuade some fleeing suspects to give themselves up or at least take off on foot, which is safer than a vehicle pursuit.

Not every councilman was eager to expand the chopper fleet. Councilman Bob McCloskey said crime is increasing in the city, and residents want to see police officers on the streets and investigating crimes. “We need to get back to basic police work because our city is being plagued,” he said.

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