Citing high-speed chases, Cleveland safety director calls for regional helicopter program

CLEVELAND - In citing high-speed chases and other police scenarios, Cleveland's safety director is calling for the police department's aviation unit to become more regional.

Martin Flask, director of the Cleveland Department of Public Safety, said in a blog post Monday that he believes the "Police Aviation Unit – like the Marine Patrol Unit – can and should be supported by our regional partners in an effort to sustain and extend our capabilities."

Flask said the AU was deactivated in 2004 due to budget cuts, but it resumed limited operations in 2007.

"The Police Aviation Unit however does not now, nor has it ever, operated ‘around-the-clock.' Operational, maintenance and staffing limitations limit the number of hours that the helicopters can be in the air and on patrol," wrote Flask.

Flask said the helicopters are an important tool to law enforcement.

"They are a productive crime-fighting tool and one that can be used effectively for aerial surveillance, searches for missing persons, and during high-speed police pursuits," wrote Flask.

No helicopters were flying when Cleveland police were involved in a chase that ended in the shooting deaths of two suspects on Nov. 6. Flask did not specifically mention this case, but the timing of the post comes when the department has been put under examination following that 22-minute chase.

The 13 officers involved in the chase have been placed on desk duty, pending the outcome of the investigation. Investigators said they fired a total of 137 shots that night. None of the Cleveland police cruisers involved in the incident had dash cams installed.

The chase started when a second district officer reported that shots were fired from the suspect's vehicle near police headquarters in downtown Cleveland.

"While there is a great deal that must be discussed, regionalizing our law enforcement aviation capacity is a viable option that deserves consideration," said Flask.

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