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Police helicopter program for 2 O.C. cities grounded for good

April 12, 2013|By Lauren Williams
  • A police helicopter glides over Newport Beach.
A police helicopter glides over Newport Beach. (Los Angeles Times )

A 16-year partnership that provided police helicopter patrols to Newport Beach and neighboring Costa Mesa has officially been dissolved, a victim of budget-tightening.

Both cities instead are contracting with Huntington Beach to provide helicopter patrol at $700 an hour.

In a final move Thursday, Airborne Law Enforcement board members -- who represented the two Orange County cities -- voted to dissolve the program. They’d earlier agreed to sell off three remaining police helicopters and dispose of 5,000 gallons of unused fuel.

"The public doesn't know, and will never know, the amount of crime fighting [the program] has done, and the amount of lives saved," said Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson.

The partnership began to teeter in June 2011 when the Costa Mesa City Council voted to end the city’s participation in the program. The board, though, continued to meet to sell off equipment and take a final accounting of any outstanding debts or claims.

A corroded infrared camera that departments in Pomona and Fontana briefly considered buying is slated to be donated to the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which sometimes patrols both cities.

Earlier this year, the cities split the remaining program funds and each received about $2.5 million.

In its deal with Huntington Beach, Newport Beach requests 1,000 hours of air time each year; Costa Mesa uses the helicopters on a case-by-case basis.  In case of a catastrophe, such as an earthquake, the Huntington Beach Police Department is contractually obligated to provide one helicopter each to monitor Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

On the Fourth of July, a busy day for police in both cities, Huntington Beach provided overhead surveillance to each, said Costa Mesa Capt. Les Gogerty.

Though the joint powers authority program, known as ABLE, was formed in 1997, the two cities have had a helicopter program since 1971.

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lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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