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Audit Raises Questions About $50M spent on LAPD Helicopters

The Los Angeles Police Department spends nearly $50m a year on its police helicopter program, or roughly $3,000 for every hour of flight, according to a new audit that raises questions about the financial and environmental impacts of the city’s aerial surveillance. A recent report by the Los Angeles Controller suggests the use of LA police department (LAPD) helicopters is nearly constant across the city, and the majority of flight time is not in response to reports of major crimes, but instead for transportation, ceremonial trips or patrols. The LAPD’s Air Support Division (ASD), which operates 17 helicopters and has more than 90 employees, costs the city an average of $46.6m a year, or $127,805 a day, the controller reported. LAPD’s chief refuted the methodology and some findings in a letter to the controller.


The flights are also a major source of pollution and appear to disproportionately affect some communities of color, according to The Guardian. The audit identified 783 instances of ceremonial “fly-by” activities of the helicopter unit over five years. That included flights over LAPD graduations, retirements, funerals, and community events and a six-hour flight for a gathering called a “Chili Fly-In”; seven “fly-by” activities at golf tournaments; and a roundtrip helicopter ride that took two LAPD officials from downtown headquarters to a meeting at a station 20 miles away. The audit found that the helicopter division devoted only 39% of its flight time to “high priority crimes”, such as reports of felony offenses or urgent public safety matters, including missing person searches. Even then, the report said that neither the controller’s office nor LAPD can demonstrate that the helicopters have deterred crime.

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