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Vote Keeps Copter Patrol in Air

June 19, 1988|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

The Santa Fe Springs City Council's approval of a one-year contract for a Sheriff's Department helicopter surveillance program means the service will continue for other cities, including South El Monte.

Sheriff's officials had sought a five-year contract for the program that serves South El Monte, Santa Fe Springs, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, La Mirada and unincorporated areas around Whittier. However, some Santa Fe Springs officials had balked at the program's price tag, $833,000 for fiscal 1988-89, and considered dropping out of the cooperative.

The Santa Fe Springs council approved the $87,800 contract earlier this month with the condition that the Sheriff's Department report back by December on ways to cut expenses for the program, said Lt. John Phillips of the Norwalk Sheriff's Station. The department is considering adding other cities to reduce costs for all member cities, he said.

Threat to Back Out

If the Santa Fe Springs council had rejected the contract for the service, it could have meant the demise of the 19-year-old Air Reconnaissance Ground Unit Support (ARGUS) program.

Santa Fe Springs was the last city to approve the contract. Pico Rivera and La Mirada threatened to back out of the program unless all cities approved it because the remaining cities would have had to pick up the financial slack.

Each city and the county pays a different amount for the service, depending on the number of square miles covered and the number of major felonies--murder, assault, robbery and rape--reported in the area, Phillips said.

Sharing Costs

As in years past, the county will pay the largest share of program costs, $386,400, because it has the most land to cover, 36 square miles in the Whittier area. South El Monte will pay $45,200, Norwalk $138,400, Santa Fe Springs $87,800, Pico Rivera $99,900 and La Mirada $75,200.

The cost of the program has increased 14% in the last five years, mostly because of salary increases for sheriff's deputies, Phillips said.

To bring down the price tag, the Sheriff's Department may try to recruit more cities for the cooperative.

Dennis Courtemarche, city manager of Pico Rivera, said the cost of the program has increased at a higher rate than his city's budget.

"At some point, you've got to question whether the amount of (patrol) time you get is worth the amount of money that you spend," Courtemarche said.

Phillips said it is misleading for cities to measure the effectiveness of the program in terms of patrol time because the helicopter is most useful in emergency situations.

On burglary calls, the helicopter can track a suspect and report to officers on the ground. "Particularly in industrial areas, it's hard for ground units to get into a complex," Phillips said.

The helicopter was also valuable during disasters such as the 1986 Cerritos airline crash. "Just by getting up (in the air) you can survey the situation a lot better than you ever could by ground," Phillips said.

The helicopter is based at Long Beach Airport and starts flying about 6 p.m. The helicopter is on duty until about 2 a.m., patrolling a regular route and responding to emergency calls as needed.

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