HAWTHORNE : Police Copter Stirs Up Discussion Over Noise

After complaints about noise created by a new police helicopter, Hawthorne officials called for a public hearing on the matter. But at Monday's hearing, only a few residents complained and a majority expressed approval for the two-man airborne patrol unit.

The Hawthorne and Gardena Police departments began using the Robinson R22 helicopter in August as part of a pilot program to help decrease police response time and cut crime in the two cities, officials said.

The helicopter flies five nights a week and is being evaluated during a 90-day trial, said Hawthorne Police Chief Stephen R. Port. So far, officials say, the helicopter has been effective in such usages as tracking stolen vehicles and breaking up large parties.

At the hearing, some residents complained that the helicopter is too loud, costs too much and is unnecessary on many police calls.

"It sounds like we're watching a Vietnam War movie. Why can't we spend all this money on more police cars and officers?" asked Lory Cerletti, a resident of the Bodger Park area.

The cost to run the helicopter, $160 an hour, is split by the cities, officials said.

But the majority of those who spoke at the hearing favored the helicopter program.

"Since the helicopter started, I've noticed two things: less sirens and less foot traffic on my streets," said resident Sandra K. Cardaropoli. Before the helicopter, "we'd find trash on our lawns and people going to the bathroom on our lawns. It was getting to be a real problem," she said.

Cardaropoli said she does not mind the noise of the helicopter.

"I feel a lot safer. This is for our protection," she said.

Police officials say they are working on controlling the noise level by varying the helicopter's flight altitude. Port said a final recommendation on noise, effectiveness of the program and whether the city should keep the helicopter will be released after the trial is finished in a month.

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