Flint, MI–You might see a Flint police helicopter patrolling the skies of Flint as early as next weekend.

At the July 27 council meeting, Flint City Council unanimously approved a $304,050 contract for the Flint Police Department to lease a helicopter for three months.

In the contract, 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 Flint.

“We are putting boots on the ground and we plan on putting a man in the air to provide us with essential information to help us bring about a change to this lawlessness and drag racing that’s going on in the city of Flint,” Sergeant Tyrone Booth said.

Some Flint residents called in during the council meeting to express their frustrations about the lack of police officers “on the ground,” a topic that has been on council agendas and for months. Police Chief Terence Green said that the difficulties in recruiting police officers isn’t a problem “specific to Flint” but can be seen nationally. According to Mayor Sheldon Neeley, Green has found 12 recruits for the police department as of July 12, and that they will be looking to create incentives to hire more officers.

Booth said that a helicopter would assist the police to “continue the work” they have been doing by “adding another tool” for them to use to fight crime.

“Leasing this helicopter does not change our effort to add more officers on the road,” Booth said. “We have a very robust, aggressive recruiting campaign that is being initiated and we are going through background information on individuals currently and we are adding to the force. Even doing that, we still need tools to help us do our jobs and do it better.”

At the July 12 council meeting, Green 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 and will provide data to the council.

Green said an officer will be trained to assist the pilot and that, optimistically, the helicopter could be in the air as early as next weekend. 

At a press conference on July 23, Neeley declared a State of Emergency for the City of Flint due to gun violence. Green believes that the leasing of a helicopter will be an additional solution to reduce violence and crime in Flint. 

“Every day someone is shot in the city of Flint. Every day,” Green said. “So me, as the chief of police, I’m going to try to procure the best equipment, innovative technology, that is going to assist us to protect and assist the officers in investigating criminal activity. And most of all, to keep the fear of crime and what a helicopter does is deter crime. … If someone is engaged in criminal activity and they know that a helicopter is hovering above, they’re going to be reluctant to commit that crime.”

As for the benefits of a local helicopter for Flint, Kimberly Vetter, a State Police Sergeant at Michigan State Police, said “the more help (Flint) gets to combat crime,” the better. According to Vetter, while the Flint Police Department can rent the MSPs helicopter, MSP doesn’t “have the capacity to accommodate flight times.” This may be because any police department in the state can utilize MSP’s helicopter. 

“We have two helicopters and one is based in the Detroit area and one is based out of state,” Vetter said. “Sometimes we don’t have anyone available and this would fill the gap. This would help the gap and help with response time.”

Additional information about the helicopter lease that was discussed at the July 12 council meeting can be found here. 

Khue Tran (she/her) is a journalist hailing from Pflugerville, TX. She is currently a student at Yale University and has written for multiple publications on campus, in addition to having words in the...