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Added Police Copter Patrols Fall Victim to Tight Budget

October 02, 1986|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

POMONA — Unsuccessful attempts to revive the Police Department's beleaguered helicopter patrol program served as a sharp reminder this week that the city's budget problems have direct effects.

On Sept. 22, the City Council voted to increase the number of aerial patrols from two to four nights a week in the hope of cracking down on drug dealing.

But one week later, after Police Chief Richard M. Tefank told the council that the helicopter is "not the most cost-efficient strategy" considering Pomona's financial predicament, council members decided that the city could not afford the expanded service.

"Pomona is on the verge of being a big enough town to keep a helicopter up there six nights a week," Vice Mayor Mark Nymeyer said. "But we're not quite there on the finances."

Cost Estimated at $100,000

The council had voted to expand the helicopter program without having reached a definite agreement over how the increased flights would be financed.

Tefank said he would prefer to have had the increase, which he estimated would have cost about $100,000, but because of fiscal restraints he said that more aerial patrols were not his top priority.

The current helicopter program, which costs $140,000 for about 4 1/2 hours of flight time on Saturdays and Sundays, was slashed from five-night-a-week service during budget-cutting sessions earlier this year.

Faced with a $3.9-million shortfall in the city's $37.9-million budget for 1986-87, City Administrator Ora Lampman had recommended a 4.5% across-the-board cut in expenditures, which included grounding the Police Department's helicopter. The council decided to preserve helicopter service on weekends when the budget was approved in June.

With 1.4 police officers per 1,000 residents, Pomona is about 45 officers short of the national average for cities with populations greater than 100,000. (Pomona has 112,000 residents and the national average is 1.8 police officers per 1,000 residents.)

Pilots Come From Pasadena

The Pasadena Police Department, whose pilots take turns working overtime to fly Pomona's helicopter for the weekend shifts, provides helicopter service in its city seven days a week with about 10 to 12 hours of flight time a day.

"There's no disagreement that we would love to have the helicopter," Lampman said. "We just have to look at what's the most effective use of our funds."

Attempts to restore at least some of the helicopter service began at the Sept. 22 meeting, when Councilwoman Donna Smith made an impassioned plea about the need to crack down on drug activity.

Smith, who often accompanies police on nightly patrols to observe problems in the city, said she recently purchased a gun for protection because of drug-related disturbances in her southeast Pomona neighborhood.

"The people have had it," Smith said. "It's scary out there."

By a vote of 3 to 2, the council decided to support Smith's request and restore helicopter service on Thursday and Friday nights.

Smith said the increased patrols could be paid for by the sale of the city's sanitation service to a private company, which occurred this week. Nymeyer, who also supported the increase, predicted it could be funded by reorganization within the Police Department.

However, Tefank told the council at its Sept. 29 meeting that the $100,000 price tag attached to the expanded service was not a cost-effective means for fighting narcotics street activity.

If the council was concerned about drug sales, Tefank said, it was more important for him to continue to have the flexibility to re-deploy ground personnel, as well as to utilize the helicopter for unscheduled patrols as needed.

Support for Ground Officers

"Most certainly, the Police Department will deploy the helicopter, in addition to the scheduled two days per week, in those situations where it can provide support to ground personnel," Tefank wrote in a memo to the council, "keeping in mind the fiscal responsibility of not exceeding the authorized budget of $140,000."

By a unanimous vote, council members decided to keep the helicopter on its weekend schedule, conceding that deployment of the craft should remain in Tefank's hands and that agreement over funding the increased service could be difficult to achieve.

Smith, who said she changed her vote on assurances that drug problems would be combatted more aggressively, said she would still like to see the helicopter flying above the city more often.

"I feel we probably will be looking at an assessment district in the future" to pay for increased police services, she said. "This all has to come to a head. There has got to be a point of frustration for everybody."

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