Looking a gift chopper in the blades might not be a bad idea, if the experience of the Newark Police Department is anything to go by. The department accepted a 42-year-old Vietnam-era helicopter free from the military in 2005, and a second in 2007 for spare parts, but maintaining and operating the aging helicopter has ended up costing the budget-strapped city millions, a Star-Ledger investigation finds. Close to $1 million has been spent on pilot salaries alone, although the helicopter spends most of its time on the ground, and records show that maintenance bills just for the last few years have topped $1 million, with expenses including $143,386 for new rotors for the Bell OH-58A Kiowa aircraft.
Experts say that even a free helicopter may not be the best use of resources for a police department facing budget constraints—especially when it's an old Army workhorse like the Kiowa. "When you get military, some of those aircraft have been flown hard," the chief of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association tells the Star-Ledger. Some 577 helicopters, many of them old models like Newark's, have been distributed to police forces around the country as part of the controversial "1033" military surplus program. Yesterday, the New Jersey Assembly's Law and Public Safety Committee approved two bills to increase oversight of the distribution of surplus military gear to local forces, reports the Asbury Park Press. (Read more 1033 Program stories.)