Flint, MI–The Flint Police Department believes that a helicopter is crucial to fight and deter the rise of crime during these summer months.
At the Flint City Council meeting on July 12, the Flint Police Department requested $304,050 from the council to lease a helicopter for three months. The council voted to postpone discussing the contract to the next committee meeting.
Flint PD claims the helicopter would assist “officers on the ground” in improving response times for calls for service, provide widespread ability to monitor and disperse gang activity, and facilitate patrol and off-road enforcement in the open areas surrounding the City of Flint.
“It’s basically for transporting police officers to deter crime, to prevent crime and be a bit more proactive, and also increase the visibility of the police department,” Flint Police Chief Terence Green said.
At the July 12 meeting, Green said that the helicopter would be stationed at Flint Bishop International Airport and it would be deployed three or four days of the week during “peak crime hours.”
Green also said that the price of the helicopter includes costs related to maintenance, storage, upkeep, and fuel costs. A Flint police officer would ride alongside the pilot, instructing them on where to fly, he said. At the conclusion of the three-month contract, police would evaluate the effectiveness of the helicopter.
“What I’m going to do is monitor and evaluate it,” Green said. “And that would be determining the success or the failures of (the helicopter), so yes we can extend it, or look for something more permanent for full-time.”
Councilwoman Kate Fields said she applauded the police in coming up with “innovative ways to help fight crime.”
Councilman Santino Guerra said that the helicopter was a “time-sensitive issue” and could act as a deterrent against people drag racing or loitering.
“I think that this is something that is worth trying, especially with the rise in crime rates we have in this city,” Guerra said. “It’s something that we haven’t done before, that I’m aware of, at the city level. So I will be supporting this project. I hope that we can get it passed and I don’t want to see a delay due to the amount of people that might be affected by it.”
Councilwoman Monica Galloway brought up her constituents’ concerns about the “allocation of funds” to pay for this helicopter.
Councilman Eric Mays said that issues of public safety could have been addressed with the $99 million dollars from the American Rescue Plan federal funds.
At the June 7 council meeting, the council decided to indefinitely table an amendment proposing $4.2 million from the American Rescue Plan federal funds should be used to address public safety and crime prevention in the city.
At the April 14 budget hearing, Green said he hoped the proposal for the upcoming fiscal years would be used to “fill vacant positions.” On April 14, Green said there were 22 full-time officer positions that are unfilled.
Tonya Burns, a resident from the sixth ward, said she was confused as to why Flint police weren’t partnering with Michigan State Police in the use of their helicopter, adding that she thought the department should prioritize its understaffing issue.
“They have a helicopter, they have pilots, they pay their insurance. We need to work on our partnership and start prioritizing,” Burns said. “We have an enforcement problem in the police departments. We have a staffing problem at the police department. … Unless that helicopter becomes like the Jetsons, and it gets wheels to drive to a 911 call, we still have the same problem: enforcement.”
According to a spokesperson from the Michigan State Police Department, the Flint Police Department can request helicopter assistance from them at any time.
“There’s regularly scheduled flights that go over Flint, but MSP’s pilot services are the ones that fly it. Any police department in the state can utilize our pilot services, not just Flint. (Our helicopters) sometimes patrol Flint’s area.”
The council voted 7-1 to move this item back to the next committee meeting. Councilman Santino Guerra was the lone dissenting vote.
The next committee meeting will be on July 21.