4 Investigation: the APD aircraft under surveillance


But while he supports the idea of ​​high-tech air support, the less-tech part of the city’s airborne police fleet has drawn criticism from Davis. Air 5, a 1981 Cessna Skylane, has been patrolling the Albuquerque skies in tight, loopy circles for decades. Davis thinks it’s time for one last flight.

The plane once sported a FLIR (Forward Projection Infrared) camera that could track criminals even after dark, but that era is now commemorated with a football-sized patch in the body of the aircraft.

“FLIR’s technology was so outdated that they couldn’t fix it anymore,” says Sgt. Will Taylor, unit pilot and on-site supervisor.

Taylor can fly both the Cessna and the two ministry helicopters. When he flies one of the APD helicopters – known as Air 1 or Air 2 – he has a set of high-tech equipment. He can fly at night. It can fly slower to more easily follow vehicles. The on-board camera software tags the streets, making it easy to pass instructions to the cops on the ground.

While on the plane, Taylor’s available technology consists of a LoJack receiver that helps find stolen cars and a tactical flight officer with a pair of stabilized binoculars.

Taylor doesn’t mind the vintage of the plane, and he’s one of the police officers who still see the plane as useful.

“A well-maintained aircraft is as good as a brand new one in terms of capabilities,” he said. Maintenance requirements are stringent. In fact, it will soon be time for Air 5 to acquire a new engine at a cost of several tens of thousands of dollars.

Davis thinks it’s a good time to step in and pull the plane down instead of spending more money on technology.

“He no longer has the tools law enforcement needs not only to prove their work in court, but to deal with all the moving parts that occur in such a big city these days,” says -he. In August, Davis tweeted a trace of the Plane’s Loop Patrol flight over East Albuquerque with the hashtag “SellThePlane.” Strict maintenance intervals mean the plane is likely worth six figures in the open market.

From September 1, 2020 until the end of August of this year, records provided to KOB 4 by Albuquerque Police Department show $ 48,070 in fuel and maintenance costs. Other flight records obtained by KOB 4 show that the police flew the plane 178 times during the same period.

APD insists that the aircraft is a valuable safeguard for its two helicopters. The department has three pilots who can fly either the plane or the helicopter. An additional pilot is evaluated only for the aircraft, and another pilot is evaluated only for the helicopters.

The city’s air unit is the same size as that of Bernalillo County, which includes a modern helicopter, a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter, and an older aircraft. But Bernalillo County just won a grant to install a refurbished camera on its plane at a cost well over $ 400,000.

Four Investigates looked at other air support units in towns similar to Albuquerque. A comparison of apples to apples is difficult to make due to geography and mutual aid agreements with other organizations.

The Tucson, Arizona police fleet consists of three helicopters and one airplane. In Tulsa, Oklahoma and Fresno, Calif., Police departments have two helicopters ready.

Kern County, California covers the town of Bakersfield, the size of Albuquerque, and has five helicopters and three airplanes. But the county is seven times the size of Bernalillo County.

The Colorado Springs Police Department is deploying two hand-launched drones – which Albuquerque Police say is not a reliable option.

Davis believes the city should rely more on its own mutual aid agreements with Bernalillo County and New Mexico State Police. All three agencies have planes based at the Double Eagle Airport in Albuquerque. In fact, the city and county regularly attempt to stagger their patrols to maximize air coverage over Albuquerque.

Albuquerque Lt. Meisinger is cautious about over-reliance on another agency for ODA work. “It’s a huge advantage to have a crew that knows our policies and the mission we’re trying to accomplish,” he says.

He also says that while Air 5 is decidedly low-tech, it’s also significantly cheaper to operate and easier to train to fly.

The department credits the plane with 50 felony arrests and the recovery of 42 stolen vehicles in 2021. These missions are often indicated by the looped aerial patterns that residents crouch their necks at and Davis says are an indicator of an obsolete air police.

“That’s really the question we have right now,” Davis muses as he and other advisers prepare to enter another budget cycle. “Is the airplane the technology we need today? And is investing all that money to bring it up to modern speed really the best use of those dollars? Or is there another solution we can do? Use that million dollars to train pilots so the helicopter can ride more often? Can we use it for overtime to contract with the sheriff or the state police to use more of their resources which are already paid by the same taxpayers? I think that’s what we really want to look at.


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