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Cerritos Council Approves $21,869 Increase for Sky Knight Program

 

 

“THE HELICOPTERS USED WITH AERO BUREAU ARE ACTUALLY BETTER QUALITY AND MORE

UP-TO-DATE THAN THE ONES USED FOR SKY KNIGHT.”

 

JOEL HOCKMAN, PUBLIC SAFETY DIRECTOR, CITY OF BELLFLOWER.

 

By Kristin Grafft

 

Despite falling support from surrounding cities, on a 5-0 vote the Cerritos City Council voted to  approve a $21,869 increase in spending for the next fiscal year in order to keep the Sky Knight program serving Cerritos.

Sky Knight is a contracted program that is touted by supporters as a “unique and proven law enforcement tool that provides quick response to crimes in progress, conducts routine aerial patrols of the city, and enhances field officer safety in participating cities.”

Originally five area cities agreed to participate in the program and split the cost, now there is only two.

Due to “budget constraints” Paramount and Bellflower left the program a few years ago, and now Hawaiian Gardens is following suit.

That leaves Lakewood and Cerritos to cover the costs on their own, bringing Cerritos’ portion up from $234,858 to $256,728.

However, it is unclear how much extra coverage the remaining cities will get for the extra cost they will now be paying.

The cities that have pulled out of the program will no longer be patrolled and the helicopter will not respond to calls for service in their area.

But, according to a letter from Lakewood’s city manager obtained by Hews Media Group-Community News, Sky Knight will respond if there is an, “immediate, life threatening situation that would result in serious injury to a deputy… and Aero Bureau can’t respond.”

At the Cerritos council meeting last Thursday, Community Safety Manager Gregory Berg said that the Sky Knight Helicopter would still be flying for the same amount of time, four hours a day.

But with Hawaiian Gardens pulling out those four hours would no longer be divided amongst three cities, it would just be between the two cities that are left. This led the council to believe their hours would be doubled for a “nominal amount”.

Councilmember George Ray clarified in his comments that Hawaiian Gardens was only paying $52,000 a year.

“If they’re paying that much they could not have been getting the same amount of hours that Cerritos and Lakewood were,” Ray said, “So we’re only going to get whatever their portion was and split between the two… I just don’t want to leave that impression, like ‘oh we’re really going to make out on this,’ because the hours are what count.”

In fact, according to the Sky Knight contract for  Hawaiian Gardens, the $52,000 was not going towards patrol hours at all. Instead the contract said, “Sky Knight services will operate on an as needed basis and only in the case of emergencies.”

The statement implied that there are potentially no new patrol hours to be divided up, but the data was not available to the council at this particular meeting.

Ray voiced his concern that there were many assumptions being made and that they did not have enough information. Ray questioned how many hours they would be getting from Hawaiian Gardens and how they would be split up, as well as the cost to Lakewood. He also commented that all the numbers were very ambiguous.

Nonetheless, the council decided to move forward without that information and seemed to agree that the potential increase in hours was still worth the increase in cost.

Before taking it to a vote, issues were raised regarding other cities continuing to use the service in emergencies, despite no longer paying for it.

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Pulido complained that the citizens of Cerritos would be “shouldering the costs of policing the whole region.”

Mayor Bruce Barrows disagreed with Pulido, explaining that all the cities in the area already “mutually aid” each other in emergency situations and then “hopefully it all averages out”.

Councilmember Carol Chen echoed Barrows sentiments.  “Crime knows no boundaries… even though it is not so clear cut and, unfortunately, we do patrol over other cities, I would much rather have this protection than not,” Chen said.

Chen then moved for approval and the council voted unanimously to increase the budget by $21,869 and remain with the program even though no other options were presented at the meeting for consideration.

In an interview with HMG-CN, Joel Hockman, Public Safety Director for the city of Bellflower, said they were paying nearly $200,000 when they last participated in the program during the fiscal year 2009/2010 for around 30-40 hours of airtime. Now that they have left the program they pay roughly $20,000 per year towards aerial support using the Sheriff’s helicopter, Aero Bureau.

The Aero Bureau is a response helicopter service available to all the surrounding cities. It is completely free for “serious” or emergency situations, but charges for the “fraction of a minute” on anything that proves to be “not serious”, he said.

Hockman also said the helicopters used with Aero Bureau are actually better quality and more up-to-date than the ones used for Sky Knight.

Hockman said they have no official data indicating whether or not crime rates have been affected since leaving Sky Knight, but he did say, “We feel good about the decision. It was largely based on cost… it was a long process and Sky Knight came up as one of the things we could cut that we would miss less than others.”

He also said that if there have been complaints since leaving the program none have reached him

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