As I sit in my office to pen this piece, I can hear it: the Huntington Beach Police helicopter patrolling Costa Mesa.
If you've had your windows open lately, you've no doubt heard it almost every night since it began patrolling Costa Mesa under a new agreement between the cities that went into effect July 1.
I will admit I was a bit skeptical about losing our ABLE helicopter program. Maybe I bought into the fear espoused by some City Hall critics — that our city was going to burn down over Fourth of July without ABLE.
However, three months in, that skepticism has faded. The new helicopter program is fantastic!
I've seen more of the new helicopter in three months than I saw of ABLE in years. By jointly working with Huntington Beach to share the helicopter, we have reduced the exorbitant costs of helicopter service, thereby allowing for increased flight and patrol times.
Most people don't realize that because we shouldered most of the cost of ABLE, we could only afford helicopter service for a few hours a day. By sharing with Huntington Beach, we are relieved of those restrictions.
We are a safer city because we have a strong helicopter patrol program. That success only happened because we were able to effectively work with another city. It simply makes no sense for one city to foot the bill for its own helicopter. It should be a shared resource, and now it is.
Back in mid-July, there was a shooting in the parking lot of Paularino Elementary School. Within minutes of the shooting, the helicopter was on scene, looking for the suspect, who had fled on foot. The helicopter stayed for more than hours, using its loudspeaker and Nightsun lights.
Five years ago, we had a shooting in almost the exact same location. There was no helicopter looking for suspects that night, despite the fact that we still had the ABLE helicopter program.
To me, this marks a success in our public safety efforts. Our city leaders should be applauded for not bowing to the internal pressure to maintain the ineffective and highly costly ABLE program. We have a much better product and service for the residents now that we share.
It may be noisy, but a police helicopter is a terrific resource for residents and businesses. I truly believe it is a "force multiplier" that makes our city safer.
Costa Mesa has a stronger helicopter program now than it has ever had, simply due to the fact that we joined forces with Huntington Beach to increase service levels and decrease costs. If this is any indication of what happens when cities join forces to provide municipal services to their residents, sign me up!
PHILLIP LESH is a 23-year resident of Costa Mesa.