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    ORANGE COUNTY, California—One month after the Airborne Law Enforcement Services (ABLE) was shut down, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach have been using police helicopter services from the Huntington Beach Police Air Support Bureau.

    Costa Mesa Interim Police Chief Dennis Kies stated, “The service Huntington Beach is providing is working well. With regard to long term plans, that will be up to the new incoming chief, Tom Gazsi. In the meantime, we are satisfied with the services we are provided.”

    Both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa City Council members, at their respective council meetings, expressed questions about what happens when there are calls for police helicopters in more than one city and concern over whether Huntington Beach would give itself preferential treatment.

    “The level of the call decides where you go,” according to Kies.

    Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson explained that calls within the three cities are handled by law enforcement priority, with “life threatening situations have the highest priority, next are crimes in progress, other situations are ranked in order with regular patrols having the lowest priority.”

    Costa Mesa is using Huntington Beach police helicopters for calls only, while Newport Beach is using Huntington Beach police helicopters for both calls and regular patrols. Costa Mesa decided against regular patrols to save money.

    Newport Beach Police Lieutenant Tom Fischbacher, formerly an ABLE pilot, has flown with the Huntington Beach pilots to teach them the Newport Beach patrol patterns.

    The Costa Mesa City Council voted to enter into a six month contract with Huntington Beach for up to $150,000 at $700 per hour. Costa Mesa CEO Tom Hatch said, “We’re very thankful to Huntington Beach, who worked so hard and so efficiently on this contract.”

    Newport Beach has a short term contract with Huntington Beach and is preparing a long term contract for consideration by their city council calling for 1,000 flight hours per year. Both contracts will have an “out clause, in case we come up with a better alternative,” according to Johnson.

    The question of rolling maps was raised at the July 19th Costa Mesa City Council meeting. Huntington Beach Police Lieutenant Russell Reinhart said the first part of installing rolling maps for Costa Mesa and Newport Beach is happening now and the project will be completed within a couple of months.

    Rolling maps are a technology that allows the police to see on a screen a digital map with exact street addresses of the block they helicopter is flying over. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer had offered money from the ABLE reserve funds to pay for speeding up installation.

    The ABLE program must convert all of its assets to cash and pay off all of its liabilities before it can be closed off and the money returned to the two cities, according to Kyle Rowan, Deputy City Attorney for Newport Beach and official attorney for the ABLE board of directors.

    The ABLE reserve funds are currently being used to pay for the hangar lease and the costs of closing the program down and selling off all of its assets.

    “Right now, ABLE has a very extensive inventory,” Johnson explained. This includes the three police helicopters, a fuel truck, tools, and other specialized equipment.

    “We are in the process of appraisal for the aircraft,” Fischbacher said.

    The ABLE Board of Directors voted at its June 17 meeting to have ABLE Commander Tim Starn research a professional helicopter broker for the sale of its police helicopters.

    Starn continues to be paid a commander’s full salary to oversee the closing down of ABLE. The helicopters must periodically be flown to maintain their air worthiness and this duty is being rotated among the former ABLE pilots to keep them certified in case of a private-public partnership.

    Johnson predicts that after all expenses have been paid, each city will get about two million dollars.

    Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff predicts that if a private-public partnership is developed to replace ABLE that it will occur within 30 to 45 days. The Costa Mesa City Council voted on June 7th to hold back on the sale of the helicopters until October 1st to give time to explore a private-public partnership.

    Both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa are looking into possible private-public partners, where a private company either operates the current equipment or purchases the equipment or provides its own equipment.

    Johnson explained that the ABLE helicopters and the Huntington Beach helicopters are about the same in noise, but that the noise level would be perceived differently by different people. He stated that each are slightly noisier at different heights and their noise is at a different pitch, but “it’s not a drastic difference.”

    Keis pointed out that the Huntington Beach Police Air Support Bureau “is a well established unit,” the first in California and fifth in the nation, and is “sensitive to noise.”

    The Huntington Beach police helicopters fly at 700 feet during the day and 800 to 1,000 feet at night, according to Keis.

    Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer claimed, “to date this city council has saved $2.2-million a year by outsourcing our police helicopter needs to Huntington Beach.”


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