The Sacramento Police Department on Wednesday showed off what will soon be their latest tool - a $1.6 million helicopter that will replace one of two older helicopters used by the department.
Police will receive the aircraft in April but will not be ready to deploy it until August after it’s been outfitted with the police tools, said Eddie Macaulay, a department spokesman. The modifications are expected to add an additional $1.1 million in costs, bringing the total price tag to about $2.7 million.
The buy is the first time a Bell 505 Jet Ranger X helicopter has been sold to any law enforcement agency, the aircraft’s manufacturer said in a press release Wednesday.
The helicopter can reach speeds of about 144 miles per hour, carry a total of five people and will be specially outfitted with infrared and color cameras as well as mapping software for the department’s officers.
Officer Linda Matthew, a department spokeswoman, said the helicopter crews often arrive quicker than ground units and can provide officers with helpful information before they respond to a scene of a crime. The aerial crews are especially useful in instances of a fleeing suspect, she added.
“It’s just another set of eyes for us that’s above,” Matthew said.
The new helicopter will replace one of two 1970s-era military aircraft used by the city police department since 1997. Since then, the helicopters have logged 1,500 flight hours, responded to 4,000 calls for service and helped arrest 400 people on a yearly basis, according to a city council staff report from February 2017.
The department also highlighted an average response time of 1.5 minutes and said a single helicopter can do the work of up to 20 ground units. Helicopters can help track stolen vehicles and can help illuminate dark areas for officers on the ground.
The Sacramento City Council approved the purchase of the new helicopter last October after the department said the Bell helicopter was the only option that fulfilled of the department’s needs.
Prior to that, the department presented a $2.8 million plan to replace one of the antiqued aircraft, a February 2017 staff report shows.
A majority of the money for the new helicopter came from the Citizens' Option for Public Safety grants, which fund local police departments and juvenile justice program throughout the state, according to the staff report.
About $417,000 for the new helicopter came from federal and state asset forfeiture, a controversial practice in which law enforcement agencies seize —and then keep or sell— cash and property allegedly involved in a crime. The FBI says the practice helps cripple criminal organizations by depriving them of assets acquired illegally.
For now, the department plans on using the replaced helicopter as a backup for when the new helicopter requires maintenance, Macaulay said.