Mayor Puts the Brakes on Anaheim’s $2.2-Million Airplane

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Anaheim’s purchase of a $2.2-million airplane for the police department is on hold, with Mayor Tom Tait saying he needs more information before he can vote to approve the proposal.

The City Council had first approved the acquisition of a Cessna Grand Caravan 208B last month, saying that the police department had made a good case for it. But because of a production delay, the plane the city had chosen wasn’t available, forcing the department to go back to the council for another approval.

On the second go-round, Tait had reservations, saying he wanted to be sure that “buying that particular model plane is the best use of city funds. I want to make sure we get the most bang for our buck.”

Tait’s hesitations came after a Voice of OC article raised questions about police officials’ justifications for buying the aircraft.

The Grand Caravan’s range is nearly 1,400 miles. It seats a maximum of 14, although Anaheim’s plane would be outfitted to seat nine. Police officials had said they need the spacious plane to carry fire department officials during reconnaissance missions on large fires. And they said the plane would replace a 12-year-old helicopter that had reached retirement age.

There are other benefits to flying planes rather than helicopters. They cost about one-third to operate per hour, can stay in the air longer and are quieter, city officials said.

Yet helicopter mechanics and industry insiders said that helicopters never truly reach retirement age and can be maintained nearly indefinitely. The Orange County Fire Authority, for example, has two helicopters that were built in 1966. And large fires requiring high-level reconnaissance equipment, like infrared cameras, are rare occurrences in the city.

Following the Voice of OC article, Police Chief John Welter said there could be no valid comparison between an OCFA helicopter and a police helicopter, because police helicopters are flown so much more than fire helicopters. Grand Caravan’s nine seats, he said, would be also be used for individuals operating equipment.

Welter also said that the plane could be used for long-term surveillance of known criminals and to transport investigators to prisons.

“If I want to go up and talk to a prisoner, I’m going to have to take a commercial flight to a commercial airport or a car, whereas with an aircraft I can fly right in close to the prison,” Welter said.

Plane purchases by cities and counties are not unheard of. San Mateo County last month bought a Cessna 206 airplane that officials there say will be used for reconnaissance. But San Mateo’s new plane holds fewer passengers and had a much smaller sticker price, coming in at $713,744.

Police officials argue that to buy the smaller plane, they would also have to purchase a new fuel system that matches the 206 model’s piston engine.

The plane would be bought with special funds from cash and other assets seized during drug raids, which by law must be spent on law enforcement. Welter said asset seizures have risen dramatically in recent years.

— ADAM ELMAHREK and BRENDAN WILES

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