By S.L. Fuller | February 15, 2017
The City of Cerritos, California, has elected to continue its Sky Knight Helicopter program after putting its fate up for consideration last October. After testimonies by members of the community in favor of keeping the program, the City Council voted unanimously last week to stay involved.
Previously, the Cerritos communication division told R&WI that City Council voted to discontinue the program. But that’s not quite what happened. Cerritos Manager of Community Safety Services Daryl Evans explained to R&WI that the City Council had just voted to put it on the chopping block. It was not alone, as a budget deficit put many programs in the same position for further analysis. The council then instructed staff to prepare a report identifying potential budget savings and projected consequences of eliminating the Sky Knight program. But Evans said the public was moved before that report was presented.
“Long before the sheriff and public safety weighed in, the community spoke up and was very supportive of [Sky Knight], and very much in defense of it,” Evans said. “I think after listening to the public, considering the cost factor and the value in that staff report, [City Council] just decided right then and there to vote on it.”
The original plan was for the council to vote on whether to keep the program on the table for the next council's vote. Cerritos is set to hold a General Municipal Election in April. Evans said he’d be surprised to see the decision reversed come the new council, considering some candidates showed support for Sky Knight during its consideration.
Sky Knight was created by the City of Lakewood, California, in 1966. Originally, six cities were involved, sharing the service and its costs: Lakewood, Cerritos, Artesia, Bellflower, Hawaiian Gardens and Paramount. However, due to budget restraints, only the first two remain a part of the program today. The staff report shows that Cerritos pays $21,000 per month to participate, and any unscheduled maintenance or uninsured physical damage to the aircraft is shared. The program had been operating two aging Schweizer 300Cs, but upgraded to two Robinson Helicopter Co. R-44s configured for law enforcement during the past fiscal year. Cerritos contributed a one-time payment of $137,700. These aircraft are based at Long Beach Airport and fly some 1,010 hours each year. Lakewood employs one full-time civilian pilot and a deputy sheriff observer assigned to Lakewood Station for the program.
Should Cerritos have stayed with its position to stop participating in the program, documentation shows that Lakewood did not think it would be able to sustain the program by itself. Cerritos could have turned to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. Aero Bureau in lieu of the Sky Knight program — Cerritos falls in its jurisdiction. Associated costs for routine patrol services from Los Angeles would accumulate at the rate of $17.47 per minute, the staff report shoed. The amount of work the Sky Knight program performed for Cerritos last August cost 50% less than the same work would have cost if performed by Los Angeles.
“County resources are shared assets. They could be anywhere at any time and they’re often called away because of other priorities,” said Evans. “Certainly the Sky Knight program is very important. It has historical significance and it focuses on the Lakewood general area.”