Peoria Mayor Jason Beck has been a proponent of bringing a joint-use helicopter to the city for police and fire to help with public safety.
In the first steps toward this goal, $4.5 million has been allotted in the proposed fiscal year 2024 city budget for the purchase and operation of a helicopter.
The proposed budget only gives a brief explanation of the request stating a helicopter would “enhance existing service.”
At a March 29 budget hearing, Beck said he has spoken to officials in Glendale and Surprise about possible intergovernmental agreements for the sharing of the vehicle, and he says they are interested, but the initial purchase of the tactical unit would fall to Peoria.
Ongoing costs could be shared between multiple cities, Beck said.
A Glendale Police Department spokesperson said discussions about a helicopter are in the very early stages, and once the city of Peoria has confirmed more specifics, then more serious conversations can be had about an intergovernmental agreement.
The Peoria budget request includes $3.5 million for the helicopter as well as $1 million for ongoing costs that would include $600,000 for salaries and benefits for two pilots and two tactical officers, $150,000 for maintenance and $250,000 for fuel.
Beck said the idea behind a helicopter is to have both police and fire safety deployment for a broader range, especially to get tactical awareness in north Peoria from a wildland fire perspective and better search processes.
“Being able to drop water, command and control, as well as police being able to do surveillance on a target and making sure that our police officers are safe,” Beck said. “The system would have a FLIR (forward-looking infrared) system so that at night operations officers would be able to transmit operations from the helicopter down to the police officer or the sergeant or the lieutenant that is in command, and be able to see suspects that are hiding in the dark.”
Peoria Police Chief Art Miller said during the budget hearing the root of the issue is training and infrastructure.
There is no mention in the proposed budget of training or helicopter infrastructure needs.
“We have to get that in first to make it safe and reliable for crime fighting and crime detection,” Miller said. “We are at the very preliminary stages. It’s not just something we can go buy today and put in the air tomorrow. It’s something we need pilots trained, maintenance, fuel, the housing of the helicopter and then we are talking with various police agencies on how they are running their operations.”
One of those agencies is the Los Angeles Police Department. At the budget hearing, Beck said he and Miller met with the LAPD chief pilot on March 27.
Beck said they are looking at different operations.
“I actually tried to recruit the chief’s friend from LAPD and maybe a few other pilots from LAPD. The idea would be to hire seasoned pilots,” he said.
Currently, if Peoria receives helicopter service for public safety it comes from either Arizona Department of Public Safety or the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
At the budget session, only a small amount of time was devoted to discussing the proposed helicopter and Councilmember Mike Finn was cautious about moving forward with so many unknowns.
“I feel like there are so many questions with this that have not been answered and addressed... this is $4.5 million and we don’t have it figured out. I have a massive concern with that,” he said.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman. We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org.
Philip Haldiman is a third generation Arizona native with brief residencies on the east and west coasts.
He has bachelor’s degrees in Theater and Journalism at Arizona State University, and is an award winning journalist with more than a decade’s worth of experience in reporting and editing.
Most recently, he was honored for excellence in education reporting 2020 from the Arizona School Public Relations Association.
In his free time, he produces an autobiographical comic book about his time spent in Hollywood and his life as a cult film star.