April 2021

Police commander apologizes for ‘CPD’ flight taking focus from ‘more important’ city issues

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Bill Bush
April 20, 2021

Columbus Public Safety Director Ned Pettus said Monday that he has instructed interim Police Chief Mike Woods to ensure that a police helicopter pilot who spelled out “CPD” in an early-morning Saturday flight over a residential area on the East Side is “appropriately addressed.”

“I will ensure that the results of his review are made available to both city council and the mayor’s office, and will include an outline of any corrective actions undertaken,” Pettus told Columbus City Council during a meeting Monday evening.

More: Columbus police helicopter spells out ‘CPD’ as council members criticize skywriting ‘joyride’

Commander Robert Sagle, who oversees the helicopter unit, apologized “for the time and attention this has caused when the city has much more important things to focus on.”

In fact, the debate over the chopper’s flight β€” which two council members this weekend deemed a taxpayer-funded “joyride” β€” took away some attention at council’s meeting from a Council President Shannon Hardin-sponsored ordinance providing $1.37 million in youth programming grants aimed at helping young people improve themselves and, hopefully, stay away from trouble.

The funds are part of the city’s Reimagining Safety initiative β€” a movement born last year from anti-police protesters’ demands that the city shift dollars toward social programs and away from providing police with military-style equipment and, ironically, helicopters.

Sagle said the chopper involved in the questionable flight path took off just after midnight, and responded to a stabbing and an assault in progress during its flight. But between service runs, the pilot charted a path that spelled out the division’s acronym, he said. The flight path was captured by Flight Aware, which monitors air traffic nationwide.

FlightAware aircraft tracking showed this flight pattern by a Columbus police division helicopter that spelled out “CPD” pattern flying over an East Side residential neighborhood early Saturday morning.

The maneuver didn’t use any additional fuel, Sagle said, because Division of Police helicopters remain in the air for their entire 90-minute shifts, and are using fuel as they wait for the next service call. It took “less than 10 minutes” to spell “CPD,” and no calls for service were missed during that time, Sagle said.

“I also don’t want to take away from the great work achieved by the members of the helicopter unit on a daily basis,” Sagle said.

Respect thy neighbor’s sleep, council member tells police helicopter unit

But Council member Elizabeth Brown noted that the maneuver took place at close to 1 a.m., when many people in the East Side neighborhood below were likely sleeping. And because the helicopter typically responds to more serious incidents, it’s prolonged presence over a single neighborhood could have given residents below the impression a crime was in progress nearby, she said.

“I’m usually asleep at 1 a.m, and I would not only be woken up but also a little bit alarmed that something was happening in my neighborhood,” Brown said.

For the helicopter to be effectively parked over a neighborhood in the middle of the night “is really disruptive even at 10 minutes,” Brown said.

Police officials told The Dispatch last August that division helicopters typically fly at 700 to 900 feet off the ground, but must come lower β€” to around 600 feet β€” during priority calls, causing more ground noise.

Sagle also said the helicopters try to avoid residential areas as much as possible while between calls in case they need to make a forced emergency landing. The neighborhood in question, west of Eastland Mall, is largely residential.

Estimated 2,500 youths to be served by grants aimed at life skills and more

Under the youth-grant programs ordinance approved Monday, community nonprofits will divvy up the $1.37 million to offer youth programming and anti-violence efforts, including leadership development, entrepreneurship, life skills training and job placement, officials said. The appropriation is the second from the new $10 million Reimagine Safety Fund, bringing the total 2021 allocation so far to nearly $3 million.

“Twenty-five hundred young people will be engaged because of these ordinances,” Hardin said, saying the move is in response to hearing “that folks wanted more youth-workforce opportunities,” and “wanted to invest in violence prevention rather than just violence response.”

The grants will go to these past city contractors: Urban Scouts ($200,000): Legacy Youth Sports League ($200,000); Africentric Personal Development Shop ($170,000); Community of Caring Development Foundation ($135,000); Community Development for All People ($90,000); and Marion-Franklin Civic Association ($50,000).

The city will engage in new or additional programming from: Columbus Urban League ($200,000); Community for New Direction ($170,000); Martin de Porres Center ($131,000); and Highland Youth Garden ($25,000).

New City Auditor computer system, roadwork and eviction aid funded
In other action Monday, the council approved:

A $27 million expenditure for a new computer system for the City Auditor’s office with FAST Enterprises, a government tax software company headquartered in Centennial, Colorado, and other vendors. The new system will overhaul the city’s capabilities in collecting, auditing, and enforcing the city’s income, admissions, hotel/motel, excise, and short-term rental taxes. The work is expected to take up to two years to complete.

An $8.5 million contract with Shelly & Sands Inc., a West Side contractor, to resurface 64 city streets and construct 157 federal “Americans with Disabilities Act” curb ramps along those streets.

A $400,000 allocation to the Legal Aid Society of Columbus to support a tenant advocacy project providing legal representation to residents facing eviction. The grant will fund four staff attorneys for the remainder of 2021, who will work with city residents in danger of being evicted. The Centers for Disease Control has extended a national moratorium on most evictions through June 30, at which time millions of renters nationwide may face simultaneous evictions that were delayed due to the COVID19 pandemic.

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