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Audit Finds LAPD’s Frivolous Use of Helicopters Flunks Cost/Benefit Analysis

by Douglas Ankney

An audit released by Los Angeles (“LA”) City Controller Kenneth Mejia revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department’s (“LAPD”) frivolous use of helicopters from the Air Support Division (“ASD”) cost taxpayers far more than any benefits received. The ASD employs more than 90 people and operates over 17 helicopters, costing LA residents an average of $46.6 million annually ($127,805 DAILY). That eye-popping amount dwarfs the annual budgets of other city departments, e.g., Youth Development at $1.7 million; Human Rights and Equity at $17.7 million; and Cultural Affairs at $29.3 million.

The audit’s analysis of ASD operations from 2018 through 2022 revealed that there are usually two helicopters flying 20 hours per day every day of the year, logging an annual average of 16,000 hours of flight time. Those hours in the air included a six-hour flight for a “Chili Fly-In” and several hours were for “fly-by activities” at a golf tournament. One flight was roundtrip for two LAPD officials from downtown headquarters to attend a meeting at a police station a mere 20 miles away. In addition to those frivolous flights, the audit uncovered 783 instances of “fly-by activities” at “LAPD graduations, funerals, and community events.” Only a little over one-third (39%) of ASD’s helicopter flights were for “high priority crimes” such as reported felonies or for public safety matters, including missing-person searches.

The cost to Los Angelenos is more extensive than just taxpayer funds. The fuel burned by the helicopters is estimated at 761,600 gallons annually, releasing over 7,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of 19 million miles driven in a gas-powered car (roughly 4,800 round-trips from LA to New York City and back). And studies have shown the noise from the helicopters has detrimental effects on citizens’ mental and physical health, including damage to the metabolism, increased stress, and increased cardiovascular disease.

But those detrimental effects pale by comparison to the man who was killed as a result of the noise. LAPD officers surrounded a man and one officer yelled “he doesn’t have a knife.” But due to the hovering ASD helicopter, another officer heard only “knife” and opened fire, killing the man. The Los Angeles Times concluded the man most likely would have survived had the helicopter not arrived. Mejia concluded in his report “[o]ur audit’s findings strongly suggest that the LAPD’s current use of helicopters causes significant harm to the community without meaningful or reliable assessment of the benefits it may or may not deliver.”  


Source: The Guardian

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