Deal could keep police helicopters in the air


Editor’s note: This changes the “or” to “and in the first sentence of the second paragraph.

COSTA MESA – In an effort to save police helicopter services, a businessman is considering buying three helicopters and equipment jointly owned by the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa police departments and selling flight time back to the cities, Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer said.

By not having to pay for the helicopter and sharing flight time with other Orange County cities, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach would be able to continue the Airborne Law Enforcement Services, or ABLE, that patrol areas that are normally difficult for officers in patrol cars to reach, such as beach communities and wooded areas, and respond quickly to crime scenes.

The businessman, who lives in Newport Beach’s costal area, would rent services out to Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Irvine, Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Fountain Valley, among other Orange County cities.

“One way or the other we’re still going to have helicopters in Costa Mesa,” Righeimer said.

The name of the businessman was not released. Sources at both city halls confirmed that the deal was being discussed but it was not possible to gauge how likely it was to go through.

Newport Beach Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said that her city supports helicopter coverage in some form, but wants to study the proposal in a measured, deliberative way before moving forward. She was not ready to support the businessman’s idea but felt that it warranted discussion.

“While Newport is testing new ways to provide services more efficiently, a private entity providing law enforcement services would be a sea change in our operations,” she said.

Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff and Police Chief Jay Johnson could not be reached for comment.

The shared cost of using the helicopter would lower cost for both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, Righeimer said.

In February of this year, Costa Mesa cut the ABLE program as a cost-saving measure. Because the two cities shared service and ownership of the helicopter, Newport Beach would have had to foot the bill for the ABLE program, buy Costa Mesa’s share of the assets and run the helicopter service on its own.

Rather than own the equipment, both police departments would rent flight time from the private owner.

“Basically, Costa Mesa is going to buy the amount of service it needs,” Righeimer said.

The city of Costa Mesa would spend about $200,000 annually in helicopter service with the private owner.

At its peak of the program, the cost to the city was about $2.4 million annually, Righeimer said.

More recently, the program cost the city of Costa Mesa $852,090 annually. By cutting the program, and four officer positions related to the program, Costa Mesa would have saved $1 million annually, according to a previous Daily Pilot article.

ABLE has been a joint effort between Costa Mesa and Newport Beach since 1996.

Costa Mesa is expected to have some form of helicopter police service as of July 1, either renting flight time from this private person or buying time from Huntington Beach, Righeimer said.

It is not yet clear whether the city will use pilots from Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach or Orange County, since the city doesn’t have a total proposal, Righeimer said.