LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Police air unit criminals pay for


Budget problems prompted Louisville to sell its only working police helicopter years ago. Now the department can only afford to run its other chopper a few hours a day.

Just 70 miles east of Louisville, the Lexington Police Department is doing what LMPD wishes it could.

Night or day, Lexington officers are on patrol from the sky all over Kentucky. Recently near Louisville, Pilot Sgt. Pat Murray said the unit assisted with the search for a soldier who drowned in Taylorsville Lake.

"If you don't have a helicopter and you have a foot pursuit or a vehicle pursuit your liability instantly goes up," said Murray.

Having an air unit also ups the overall budget for a department.

"We're talking excess of $1-million and if you come in fully equipped," Murray said. That is quite the price tag just for a helicopter unless it's one like Lexington flies.

"They gave us the aircraft which is still flyable," Murray pointed to the white police chopper which was a free gift.

Murray said the Lexington Police Department applied for and received two free helicopters from a military surplus of older models once flown in wars such as Desert Storm. The gift saved the department 1 to 2 million dollars.

"Instead of these helicopters going south somewhere to the bone yard or going to Colombia to fight their drug war that the U.S. paid for, we're getting them back and we're getting them put to use for the police department and Homeland Security," Sgt. Murray stated.

The choppers arrive military style and it is up to departments like Lexington to spend the money to change the look, add equipment and get it ready to fly.

"We initially put about $200,000 into this aircraft and got it operational. The only thing that we have to pay for of course is jet fuel and maintenance on it," Murray said.

Even those expenses are often times paid for by criminals.

"Money seized through illegal gains like our drug deals, our drug dealers paid for this," Murray revealed.

But what about drug money and illegal gains in Metro Louisville? Police Chief Robert White told Fox 41, the money does not go to one specific unit.

"We get forfeiture funds I mean you know I'm not so concerned of if the forfeiture funds go towards narcotics or if they go towards purchasing cars or if they go towards the helicopters as long as it's all in the department budget and we just use it as we deem," said White.

Money has been the root of problems for the Metro Police Air Unit for the last few years. In 2008, Mayor Jerry Abramson and Chief White sold the department's only working helicopter despite public safety concerns. Abramson cited a budget shortfall for the sale. During that time, the city's other chopper was being fixed after a crash in 2006.

Now Metro Louisville has one chopper, but Metro Police officials say it's under restrictions of flying only four hours a day during peak times from 8am to 4am.

Fox 41 ask Chief White if Louisville is safe flying only a few hours a day. "I am absolutely, unequivocally very comfortable with our air unit given the fact that we currently do have one unit and the mission that they currently serve out," White answered.

He admitted an air unit is a legitimate need, but he says it is not a necessity.

"I don't think the world's going to come to an end if we don't have an air unit, but I think it is nice to have one," White said.

That is why he is looking into the military surplus choppers similar to those Lexington owns.

"I made a written request in 2008," White revealed.

But he says the department has yet to receive an extra chopper. Government officials tell Fox 41, Louisville will have to wait like other departments for extra helicopters to become available.

If Louisville is awarded a surplus chopper, government restrictions would prevent it from being sold even if it was to fill a budget hole. Meanwhile, Chief White says flying restrictions on LMPD's Air Unit will not prevent officers from responding to an emergency.

"If there was an emergency it doesn't matter how many hours they've been up whether they've gone over the mandated hours that we set or not," White said.

An extra chopper will come in handy, when and if it comes through. Chief White said the Metro Police Air Unit responds to an average of 1,000 runs a year.