Columbus Police Debut New, Converted Helicopters

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The city of Columbus has spent about $2 million for converted police choppers after the equivalent of a check-engine light forced several precautionary landings.

Police say the unreliable fleet clipped the unit’s wings and made it more difficult for police to capture fleeing criminals.

"This past year has been tough on all of us - the pilots - because we've been down due to maintenance issues,” said Lieutenant Greg Estep of the Columbus Police Helicopter Unit. 

In 2014, police choppers were dispatched 7,152 times resulting in nearly 179 felony arrests.  So far this year, dispatched chopper runs have plummeted to 2,584 and felony arrests have been cut by more than half to 77.

The converted choppers have longer rotor blades and a more powerful engine, with an extra 200 horsepower.  That means summer's worst heat and humidity won't slow them down.

Pilots say it’s a little like the difference between a Ford Mustang, and a Ford Mustang GT.

The converted choppers are also equipped with cameras -- an eye in the sky for officers facing unseen danger on the ground.

The Columbus Police Helicopter Unit hopes to have a half dozen helicopters providing 16-hours of air coverage for the city of Columbus every day.

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