Sheriff’s helicopter request creates political turbulence.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Sheriff Mike Kanalakis’ request to buy a helicopter is giving his political opponent campaign fodder. Cmdr. Fred Garcia, who is challenging Kanalakis in June 2010, says the $660,000, grant-funded chopper is another example of Kanalakis playing show-and-tell instead of supporting deputies. “It’s bells and whistles, and we are not focused on our priority. And that’s police work,” he says.
Kanalakis defends reviving the helicopter program, which he eliminated last year due to lack of funding. Through a Homeland Security grant, the Sheriff’s Office wants to purchase the Robinson R-44 helicopter and have it up and running by Dec. 1. “The helicopter is a public safety issue,” Kanalakis says. “It’s not a political issue. It’s a very inexpensive program to operate and in the end our officers will be better protected.”
The County Board of Supervisors Oct. 13 put off providing $220,000 in fiscal years 2010-11 and 2011-12 in case the grant doesn’t come through. The supervisors said they wanted commitment in writing that local cities would contribute and a detailed business plan.
The helicopter operations are estimated to cost about $212,000 through the end of the fiscal year. Kanalakis expects to raise $50,000 and $22,000 from the Sheriff’s Advisory Council and local cities, respectively. Although the county made $25.7 million in cuts this fiscal year, Kanalakis says his department came in $1 million under budget.
Garcia says he doesn’t know how Kanalakis can justify the expense when the Sheriff’s Office is more than 40 deputies short and there is a three-month backlog in processing evidence.