Cities formally end police helicopter program

A 16-year law enforcement partnership that provided police helicopter patrols to Costa Mesa and Newport Beach touched down for the last time Thursday morning.

Representatives from both cities voted to dissolve their agreement to provide police helicopter patrols during the final meeting of the Airborne Law Enforcement (ABLE) board at Newport Beach police headquarters.

“I think it’s important to recognize that [length of service] and thank the great work the men and women in ABLE have done,” said Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson. “The public doesn’t know, and will never know, the amount of crime fighting ABLE has done, and the amount of lives saved.”

ABLE helicopters, or Eagles, patrolled the skies above both cities, providing support to police on the ground. The Eagles were grounded in June 2011 after the Costa Mesa City Council voted that February to dissolve it, citing costs.

The ABLE board continued to meet to settle remaining affairs of the joint effort, including selling three police helicopters and deciding what to do with 5,000 gallons of unspent fuel.

An audit was conducted to ensure that all financial affairs were in order and there were no outstanding debts or claims. A corroded infrared camera that departments in Pomona and Fontana briefly considered buying is slated to be donated to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which sometimes patrols both cities.

Earlier this year, the cities split remaining ABLE funds and each received about $2.5 million.

Currently, both cities partner with Huntington Beach for police helicopter services at $700 an hour.

Newport Beach requests 1,000 hours of air time each year from its northern neighbor, while Costa Mesa uses the helicopters on a case-by-case basis. Newport is not billed for unused hours.

In case of a major catastrophe, such as an earthquake, the Huntington Beach Police Department is contractually obligated to provide one helicopter each to monitor Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

On the Fourth of July, a busy day for police in both cities, Huntington Beach provided overhead surveillance to each, said Costa Mesa Capt. Les Gogerty.

“It’s been an honor to serve this board as your legal council for the past couple years,” ABLE legal counsel Kyle Rowen said at the close of the meeting.

Though the ABLE joint powers authority program was formed in 1997, the two cities have had a helicopter program since 1971.

Twitter: @lawilliams30