Gov. Larry Hogan pledged this week to authorize up to 10 Maryland State Police helicopter crews to staff flights over Baltimore as part of a $21 million effort to help the city to deter crime.
As Baltimore struggles with persistently high violent crime, the state helicopter crews would “provide additional support to the police officers on the ground and will proactively search for criminal activity or suspicious circumstances from the air," Hogan said.
But the union that represents Maryland State Police helicopter pilots has a message for the governor: Not so fast.
Patrick Moran, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, said the state police have lost nearly two dozen pilots in recent years and had to cut back on flights. He doesn’t see how it’s possible to add extra work onto such depleted staffing ranks.
“The promise to the city is a false promise that they cannot keep,” Moran said. "The Hogan administration has had to shut down the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. helicopter shift at the Cumberland hangar for all of Western Maryland due to short staffing.”
Moran has repeatedly argued the Hogan administration is failing to fill vacant state jobs, letting critical state functions atrophy.
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Of the 10 Maryland State Police helicopters, one is “broken" and three others are undergoing “heavy maintenance” work, Moran said.
“It’s not going to happen," Moran said of conducting operations in Baltimore. "There isn’t the staff or the aircraft to do that. It’s a hollow promise. It’s an empty promise.”
In a letter to Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young this week, Hogan said state police would “conduct law enforcement tactical flights over Baltimore whenever their duties bring them into or near the city.”
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The governor said such occasions would include when helicopters "leave Baltimore hospitals following medevacs, when they are conducting training flights, and when they are moving to or from their headquarters at Martin State Airport."
Hogan said state police would coordinate the flights with Baltimore police.
“Our flight crews will work closely with the members of BPD’s Foxtrot to avoid overlap and to ensure their flights are utilized where they are most critically needed,” he wrote.
Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said conducting operations in Baltimore won’t require additional staff, because the extra help would be provided while state police are already in or near the city.
Elena Russo, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Police, said the agency has already begun conducting “airborne law enforcement patrols over Baltimore” as directed by the governor.
“MSP pilots are conducting the patrols after conducting any medevac mission and landing at a Baltimore hospital,” Russo said.
Russo said 58 of 78 pilot positions are filled. She said the state is recruiting experienced helicopter pilots to fill the vacant spots and encouraged potential candidates to apply.