Chicago — The Cook County Board of Commissioners has authorized funding for the sheriff’s office to acquire a helicopter, according to a press release from the office of Sheriff Tom Dart. His office currently shares two aging helicopters with the Chicago Police Department.
In addition to the new sheriff’s office chopper, CPD’s just-approved budget for next year includes $11.5 million to buy two helicopters.
“Helicopters are a game changer, particularly in tracking carjackers and coordinating emergency response to major incidents,” Dart said in the press release.
In an effort to reduce crashes and injuries to innocent people, some police departments, and CPD in particular, have sharply reduced the situations in which patrol officers can pursue vehicles. Because Chicago’s police helicopters are frequently down for maintenance or due to weather, terminated pursuits now mean that offenders can often drive away and avoid arrest.
But the onboarding of new aircraft could change all of that, giving police the resources they need to track elusive vehicles safely from the air.
“Having a helicopter monitor carjacking offenders from the sky increases the chances of the offender being caught,” Dart said. “Additionally, the helicopter helps avoid potentially dangerous pursuits, which reduces the chances of innocent civilians being killed or hurt by a fleeing offender.”
A high-tech federal law enforcement helicopter from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has participated in at least 30 coordinated “vehicular hijacking” missions this year with CPD, the sheriff’s office, Illinois State Police, and other agencies. These missions have worked very well and show how powerful coordinated air support can be.
“Unfortunately, the two helicopters that are currently shared by the City of Chicago and the Sheriff’s Office are often out of service due to maintenance issues or are grounded by inclement weather that they are unequipped to navigate,” Dart said.
The two helicopters that currently patrol the city and county pale in comparison to the Los Angeles area, which has 35 police helicopters, and the New York City Police Department, which is increasing its fleet from seven to nine, according to the sheriff’s office.
The county is setting aside $11.4 million in next year’s budget for a helicopter and equipment, the office said. Another $2.5 million in federal money will go toward the new aircraft.
If everything goes as planned, the new sheriff’s office helicopter should be operational by late summer or early fall of next year, according to Dart’s office.