Question: Where will Indianapolis surveillance helicopters be for the Final Four downtown? Answer: On the ground.
There are questions about what kind of air support police will have for the Final Four crowds this weekend with no IMPD copters in the air. Fox59 broke the story last February that IMPD had grounded it's helicopters for months and hadn't paid insurance on them, because of budget cuts.
Police in San Antonio hosting the NCAA Women's Final four plan aerial support for their games. But Indianapolis police have no similar plans for the much larger Men's Final Four, one of the largest annual sporting events in the nation. Some IMPD officers familiar with the situation say the lack of a police helicopter is a dangerous move by city leaders. The city will have access to a state police helicopter if it's necessary. San Antonio comparatively has access to five city police helicopters. Officials for the San Antonio Police told Fox59 they plan regular surveillance fly-overs during the Final Four games.
"I've never heard someone say they understand why the city's helicopters were pulled because of budget constraints," said Bill Owensby, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police. "The helicopter is the kind of thing you never know how important it is until you need it. And when you do need it, you need it very badly."
Some officers who asked not to be identified, criticize newly named Indianapolis Public Safety Director Frank Straub for pulling the plug on the city's helicopter program. The helicopters are no longer accessible for night ground searches for murder suspects or other police emergencies or events downtown.
Some officers are concerned the copters aren't available should there be any kind of terrorist alert. They also point to concerns for the Indianapolis Super Bowl in 2012. Indianapolis hosted the Final Four in 2006 when the helicopter program was still operating. Frank Straub would not comment on contingency plans for this weekend's Final Four. But a spokesman said there are additional cameras around Lucas Oil Stadium they feel will provide security job for the huge crowds coming to Indy.
Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Bill Owensby criticizes the move saying the city has 1600 officers but none in the air.
"We're a metro area of a million people, we have sporting events unlike most major cities in country , and it just boggles my mind that we wouldn't have foresight enough to keep the helicopter flying," said Owensby.
Straub, through a spokesman, said the plan is still under review. Back in February when Fox59 broke the story, Straub said he'd conclude his evaluation by the end of February and make a recommendation to the Mayor. It's now nearly April and the plan is reportedly still under review.
In 2009 Indianapolis spent 1.2 million to operate two helicopters including a 1964 Jet Ranger reportedly the oldest flown for law enforcement in the United States.
Some officers say the city is doing policing on the cheap adding that the helicopters are a key tool in the policing toolbox that for Indianapolis may be permanently gone.