Topeka Police Chief Ron Miller and Shawnee Co. Undersheriff Scott Holladay outlined an interesting idea for City Council members this week - a joint Shawnee Co. Law Enforcement Aviation Unit.
The TPD chopper unit has been grounded since a crash on Washburn's campus last April. Since then, a consultant reviewed the unit and made several recommendations. Chief Miller says the joint unit would be a way to improve the unit while implementing some of those suggestions on things like training and equipment. In addition, it would bring in financial support from the county, which would, in turn, have a hand in decision and policy making.
It's a proposal that's worth studying. Chief Miller says he's not talking about expanding the size of the unit itself - merely it's reach. People in Rossville, Auburn, Berryton and more would enjoy the same routine patrols seen within the city limits, with still one chopper flying with the same number of personnel. Some might argue it had that expanded reach already. Let's face it - you're in the air looking around - it's not like your vision stops at the city limits. Plus, law enforcement units routinely provide assistance to each other at no charge, so it's not the like the police helicopter never lent a hand to the county before.
The major obstacle likely will be money. People often talk about the importance of public safety and, if possible, would love to outfit law enforcement with tools to rival what you see on CSI:. But right now, times are tight. Will taxpayers be willing to foot the costs necessary to get the unit flying again? And will county taxpayers want to chip in for a service they already could get in vital situations for free - do they believe it would improve safety on a daily basis?
I remember a few years back, when it was first proposed to ground the helicopter unit for budgetary reasons. People were outraged and held fundraisers to keep their "eye in the sky." With pennies being pinched even more in the current economy, what do you think - has the opinion of its importance changed?