Chicago Police Department, alderman push for new police helicopters in city budget

Sarah Schulte Image
Wednesday, October 25, 2023
Chicago Police Department pushes for new police helicopters
Fighting crime from the air is a tool the Chicago Police Department says they desperately need, but the department only has three helicopters.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Fighting crime from the air is a tool the Chicago Police Department says they desperately need, especially with the city's no vehicle pursuit policy. However, the department only has three helicopters.

Police said their fleet is aging and the helicopters are down for maintenance more often than not.

"One of them we purchased for one dollar," 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly said. "It's decades-old and incredibly fuel inefficient, so it's not worth the department's time."

Reilly has been sounding the alarm about the need for more helicopters since 2008. He did so again Tuesday at a City Council budget hearing for the Chicago Police Department.

Top CPD leadership agreed with him, and so did Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

"We don't have near what anybody suggests we have," Dart said.

Covering 975 square miles with over 125 municipalities, Cook County shares CPD's aging helicopters during a time when carjackings across the city and county are way up.

"When there is no helicopter we are just guessing," Dart said. "We are seeing people all over (a) general area, hoping we can see a car that looks like the car we thought hit a license plate reader."

Dart said carjacking arrest numbers go way up with the use of helicopters because they can safely and quickly follow the stolen vehicle from the air.

Other major cities have multiple police helicopters. Los Angeles has 17, New York City has seven and Houston has at least eight.

Dart said all three cities have much lower carjacking numbers than Chicago.

"We have to get to the point where people realize you carjack, we are going to be on it. We are catching you and catching you quick," Dart said. "That's the only way to drive this down. It's not going to be from a public service message from me."

Cook County has its own helicopter on order, and Chicago police are in the process of getting two new ones by the end of next year. However, all of those are likely to be replacements for old helicopters.