Criticism & Praise: Looking at the First Year of the New MSP Helicopter

Posted at 11:18 PM, May 04, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-05 09:59:02-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (May 4, 2014) — In the past year, the new Michigan State Police helicopter has been on more than 600 missions.

“A lot of our time was spent looking for missing children, missing adults and folks with Alzheimer’s or dementia,” Michigan State Police pilot Sgt. Jerry King said.

The crew has had a busy year helping with the biggest news events in the state. They helped in the search for Jessica Heeringa in Norton Shores when she went missing in April 2013. More recently, the helicopter was used in the search for Takashi Sugimori in Asylum Lake.

FOX 17 was flew with MSP when they aided ground crews in the search for the armed robbers of Medawar Fine Jewelry on April 22.

“It’s important that we’re up in the air and we can impact those things real-time,” King said.

King says two additional pilots have been hired. Both will be trained to operate both helicopters.

A lot of communities have praised the MSP helicopters They have also encountered some resistance, because when the MSP aviation team isn’t flying on a specific mission, they’re doing routine patrols. Some people are not happy about that.

The helicopter began flying over Grand Rapids last year after a spike in murders, and a petition was started to ground it, a notion supported by Mayor George Heartwell. “It has become a source of concern for citizens,” Heartwell said. “I am one of those citizens that is kept awake in the early morning hours.”

King says the controversy comes when people don’t understand exactly what their mission is. “I think it’s easy to make the leap to say, ‘Well, it’s the government. They’re flying above us, so it must be something they’re up to that I’m not going to like.'”

But MSP cancelled the patrols over Grand Rapids and relocated them in Flint, Saginaw, and Detroit. They patrol each of those cities 20 hours each a week, and they say there’s been a significant drop in crime in each city.

“They’re not always sure exactly what we can see or how fast we can go or how good our camera is, but the fact that we’re there and can see and can help is a deterrent,” King said.

In the fall, the federal government will fund the helicopters’ role in the Domestic Cannabis Eradication Program, helping the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spot illegal marijuana growing operations.

Currently, the helicopter is flying on the Secure Cities Initiative, paid for by the Michigan State Police general fund. It costs around $400,000 a year to operate.

“We don’t need the credit. We just wanna help people on the ground do their job better, and that’s what we’re about,” King said.

The Michigan State Police helicopter will be seen over West Michigan more this summer, as there are plans to amp up patrols in this part of the state.