The Los Angeles Police Department has acquired five Army helicopters for free, replacing three choppers that were grounded in June because they were dangerously worn out.
But the department would still like to buy some more.
LAPD officials called the acquisition a stopgap measure because the Army helicopters, which were donated to the city under a federal program that provides local governments with surplus military equipment, are still not up to current standards.
“It’s good to have them now to fill the void” created when the department grounded three of it 16 helicopters, LAPD spokesman John Dunkin said Monday. “But in the long term, the advanced technology” available in copters the city still wants to buy “is the key to filling the void of service to the city.”
The three grounded helicopters, manufactured in the 1970s, all had more than 32,000 hours in the air and were plagued by leaks and other maintenance problems. Police officials have been pushing for the city to replace the choppers with modern craft that would be faster, quieter, and could carry more equipment, such as brighter searchlights.
The department was able to secure five OH-58C choppers under the federal military downsizing program, officials said. They were flown to Los Angeles from a base in the Midwest on Friday.
Dunkin said the new choppers are similar to the grounded ones, Bell Jet Rangers, except that they have logged only 1,000 to 4,000 hours in the air.
Two of the newly acquired copters will be used for training, one for surveillance, and the other two will be used for parts, Dunkin said.
But, officials added, the department cannot acquire the state-of-the-art helicopters it wants through the federal military downsizing program, and so is still depending on the City Council to authorize purchase of three of those helicopters.
Mayor Richard Riordan’s chief of staff, Robin Kramer, said a report from the city’s chief accounting officer on how to purchase new helicopters will be delivered to the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee this week.
“If the stars all line up right,” she said, “the financing could be approved in a month to six weeks.”
Dunkin said that if that occurs, the department will ground the three helicopters still in the fleet with the highest amount of time in the air. Other choppers have from 17,000 to 21,000 hours of air time, he said.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tries to replace its helicopters before they accumulate more than 10,000 hours.
The LAPD’s Air Support Division last year handled more than 43,000 calls, had the first unit at a crime scene nearly 15,000 times and was involved in 696 chases of pedestrians and 424 auto pursuits, according to department statistics.