Tucson police choppers grounded following audit

Tucson police choppers grounded following audit

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson residents won't see a Tucson Police Department helicopter in the sky for a while.

The unit was grounded following a recent audit that recommends changes when it comes to training and safety, prompting concern in the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

PCSD Sheriff Chris Nanos said he was not warned the Tucson police air support unit would be grounded following an outside audit that apparently found issues with operation and policies.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department shares resources with surrounding agencies through mutual aid agreements, but Nanos said there must be no assumption that PCSD crews will take over Tucson police air patrols.

Nanos said he learned the TPD air unit was grounded through media reports.

He said covering for TPD would cost money and stretch resources.

"If there's something critical happening right this minute we'll do whatever we can to assist. Clearly if there's any indication that we're going to assist more than that, no one has shared that with me," Nanos said.

He estimates the cost of using the PCSD helicopter at about $450 an hour. He said it costs about $100 an hour to use their fixed-wing aircraft.

In a memo obtained by Tucson News Now, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said, "complaints were brought forward by members of Air Support ... about operation and policies."

The memo goes on to say an outside audit last month revealed "numerous policy and practice issues ... serious enough to require mitigation."

The memo said TPD air will be grounded in the meantime.

"We would probably shut our agency down, too, because it is a safety issue," Nanos said. He said members of his air unit were not under the impression the TPD air unit would be grounded when TPD asked them about covering calls.

In an interview about his tenure with the Tucson Police Department, Villaseñor said he would not comment on the situation with air support.

"We're having our attorneys look at the audit and everything, before we comment, we'll know what's needed," Villaseñor said.

The memo, which Nanos said he never received, states the TPD air issues should "only take a few weeks" to resolve and that PCSD air support would be used "in extraordinary circumstances."

Though Sheriff Nanos said he was caught off guard, he said the citizens of Tucson should feel confident about air coverage.

"If there's something going on that right now needs help, we're going to be there," he said.

Incoming Tucson police Chief Chris Magnus said he has been briefed on the situation with the agency's air unit.

Magnus said he believes the issue will be resolved soon, and he looks forward to coordinating with Sheriff Nanos.

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