Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Shortages limit helicopter use to nighttime hours for now

Tucson Police Department helicopter pilots Chris Potter (left) and Todd Griffith review a preflight checklist.

Tucson Police Department helicopter pilots Chris Potter (left) and Todd Griffith review a preflight checklist.

The lack of a mechanic is keeping Tucson police pilots from attacking crime from the air as much as they would like.

The city has three helicopters, but one is not flying because the Police Department’s two helicopter mechanics can’t keep up with maintenance and repairs, said Officer Chris Potter, one of TPD’s seven pilots.

And the department’s 40-year-old, fixed-wing aircraft is grounded for lack of funds, said Officer Todd Griffith, also a TPD pilot.

Another helicopter mechanic would allow the department to increase flying time from the current of about 3,200 hours per year between 4 p.m. and 4 a.m., Potter said.

Within five to 10 years, he hopes to see the Bell JetRangers in the air during daylight, when they could help with things such as bank robberies, which happen during bank hours.

“We just don’t have the money to fly in the daytime,” Potter said.

If you see the helicopter circling above your neighborhood, don’t assume there’s a criminal on the loose. A key role for the air support unit is to take pressure off ground units by handling routine calls from the air, Potter said.

Without involving patrol officers, helicopters can find stolen cars (by flying over spots where thieves are known to leave them), break up loud parties (a spotlight can quickly end a high school party), stop fights (the spotlight often ends them) and catch burglars (they have spotted some in the act while flying over problem areas), Potter said.

Source: Tucson Police Department

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BY THE NUMBERS
● 11,000 calls responded to per year

● 3,200 hours of flight time per year, all from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.

● 810 calls responded to by police helicopters in September

● 54 percent of September calls reached before ground units

● 7 Tucson police pilots

● 3 Bell JetRanger helicopters in the fleet, one grounded for lack of a mechanic

● 1 airplane, grounded for lack of funds

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24 hours with the Tucson Police Department

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Shortages limit helicopter use to nighttime hours for now

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