City officials, saying they can get more for their money with police on the ground rather than in the air, have proposed that Paramount pull out of the county sheriff's helicopter program, the airborne law enforcement patrol that hovers nightly over six Southeast cities.
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the proposal Tuesday at its budget meeting. If the council decides to cancel the patrols, the other cities would have to pay more money or reduce the number of hours the helicopter is airborne, officials said.
The six cities paid $855,500 this year for the Sky Knight sheriff's air patrols. The other cities are Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens and Lakewood.
Paramount City Manager Bill Holt said the city could triple the number of patrol hours on the ground if it redirected the $201,000 a year it pays for 600 hours of helicopter patrols. Holt has recommended that the council cancel the service, and give the required six-months notice to the other participants.
Lakewood officials said they will try to set up a meeting of city officials in hopes of keeping the consortium intact. Lakewood launched the nightly helicopter patrols in 1966 and owns the helicopter used by the Sheriff's Department. City officials recently held a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Sky Knight service.
If Paramount can't be persuaded to remain in the program, Lakewood officials hope to come up with a plan to continue the service without a dramatic increase in costs to the remaining cities, said Lakewood spokesman Donald Waldie.
Cerritos Councilman John Crawley said the patrol is so important to his city that he would favor paying more money to retain the service. "I think it's very effective, especially in a city (such as Cerritos) that has a lot of burglaries," Crawley said.
Artesia Councilwoman Mary Alyce Soares said, however, that if Paramount decides to withdraw, "we're going to have to re-evaluate, too."
Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Rosalie Sher said a decision on whether to continue the patrols will depend on "how much it costs us if Paramount withdraws."
Lakewood officials said Paramount officials do not realize how effective the chopper is in catching criminals, and recommended that those officials take a ride in it.
But Paramount officials insisted that they are well aware of the patrol's benefits.
"We know it's effective," Councilwoman Elvira Amaro said. "But our budget is the problem."
Paramount Mayor Gerald A. Mulrooney said he has flown in the helicopter. "We're intelligent people," he said. "We don't have to go up in the helicopter once a year to know that we can see into back yards (when airborne)."
"We realize the value of Sky Knight," the mayor continued, "but we have to make some difficult decisions. . . . In 1980 when I came on the council, the law enforcement budget was less than $2 million. Now, it's close to $5 million." The city's total budget is about $17.4 million.
Capt. John Anderson, head of the sheriff's station in Lakewood where Sky Knight is based, said the helicopter is a valuable safety backup tool for a patrol officer pursuing a suspect on the ground.
However, Anderson also recognizes that officials in Paramount and other cities are struggling to balance their budgets.
The recession, combined with severe cutbacks at the state and federal levels, have put all cities into an especially critical budget bind this year, Anderson said. "I've been at the Lakewood station now for 13 years . . . going through budgets with the cities and this is by far the worst."