No one relishes a speeding ticket, especially having one showing up in the mail thanks to patrol aircraft getting a bird’s eye view of one’s lead-footing. However, a number of states and cities are grounding aircraft patrols, due to the prohibitively high cost.
State budgets the wind beneath aircraft patrols wings
Aircraft patrols, the use of aircraft for traffic enforcement, was formerly in widespread use nationally. They are effective in catching speeders red-handed and enables officers to quickly catch up to and collar the leaden of foot.
However, they are also costly. Aside from the cost of acquiring the plane, according to MSNBC, aerial enforcement also involves the cost of fuel, maintenance, the salary of a qualified pilot and also the expense of coordination with units on the ground. Despite it being part of law enforcement, even law enforcement isn’t immune from budget deficits and recessions, which ultimately lead to cuts. Numerous cuts have been made in recent years to aircraft patrols.
States cannot afford them
States that formerly made use of such patrols are now cutting back drastically. Virginia was a staunch proponent of aircraft patrols, frequently using them between 2000 and 2007. However, the state has used its patrol aircraft only six times since 2008.
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The state of California, perpetually in a state of budget crisis, has reduced it’s $12 million aircraft patrol budget by one-third, allocating only $8 million to aerial pursuit of speeding motorists and restricting use to search-and-rescue or other high-priority cases. Washington state similarly cut funding by $1.4 million between 2009 and 2011, slashing flight hours by 39 percent and reducing traffic stops involving patrol aircraft from 13,500 per year to 5,000 per year.
Wisconsin, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette, cut its patrol fleet from four planes in 2000, which were flying approximately 600 hours per year, to three planes and 453 hours of flight time. Each plane costs $120 per hour in the air. Of that expense, $84.50 per hour is paid to the Department of Administration, as the government of Wisconsin rents planes from itself.
The state of Michigan canceled its aircraft patrol program more than a decade ago.
New York state, according to MSNBC, used to make heavy use of its patrol aircraft, but hasn’t issued a ticket since 2005.
Still some activity
Other states, such as Ohio and Florida, make heavy use of their aircraft traffic patrols. Last year, the Ohio State Highway Patrol issued close to 16,000 tickets using patrol aircraft. Florida’s Highway Patrol issue an estimated 30,000 per year. Defenders insist the patrols, when done correctly, are able to spot more speeders in a shorter amount of time than traditional patrol cars. That makes it easier to direct patrol units to the offender, resulting in more speeders being caught. Resulting ticket revenues can pay for the programs in some cases.
However, there is also a good deal of talk, and subsequent concern, that drones are going to be utilized to patrol traffic, according to USA Today.