FLIGHT AND REFLECTION: THE COST OF PUBLIC SAFETY

Done with Week 2 of my stay in Tulsa City and it may be my most unforgettable week yet. Why? Because it’s hard to top a 2-hour action filled helicopter ride experience. Yes! That’s right, 2 hours in the air on a police helicopter providing air support to actual police operations on the ground. It wasn’t a routine patrol flight without events. We were able to respond to 2 shooting incidents!

Perhaps a more important aspect of the experience, aside from the breath taking views, fun, and thrill of the ride, was the personal reflection that stemmed after the conversations we had with the police officers. Officers shared that support for their office’s operations is a bit shaky. The high capital cost of acquiring helicopter units and maintenance or operational cost has irked some city officials. Some have even questioned the necessity of having the helicopters do regular patrols instead of on an on call per need basis.

The officers, of course, gave several reasons in support of their operations. 1st was that the presence of a patrolling helicopter intimidated would be criminals, 2nd was that the helicopter was often able to provide valuable information to responding ground police personnel, 3rd the helicopter assists in many ways to protect the lives of other police officers responding to an event on the ground, 4th the helicopter can capture videos that can be used in court, and 5th the helicopter had the flexibility to either perform a rescue operation, go on pursuit of a runaway vehicle, or help in night search operations.

We engaged further in discussion with the officers and tried to look into both sides of the fence. My co-fellow even came up with the idea of a more cost effective alternative such as employing the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or employing a combination use of UAVs and helicopters to reduce the operational and capital costs. The argument, the police officers had, against UAVs is that currently UAVs have limited fly time and that they don’t have the flexibility to perform functions that a helicopter unit can do such as search and rescue operations.

For me it didn’t matter whichever side had more reasons, the question ultimately boils down to how much the government is willing to spend for safety? And often it is difficult to answer this question and governments also tends to be more reactive than proactive because it is difficult to allocate resources on theories or something you think might happen. For example, police presence is usually increased in area only after an incident happens in that area. By that time, the damage has already been done. This is something not only government officials or workers should ponder on but also ordinary citizens. Think hard. How much should the price of safety be?

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