The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) will soon have its first new aircraft in 25 years to help with state and local investigations.
The Budget and Control Board gave final approval Tuesday for SLED to purchase a new two-passenger helicopter. The approval comes a week after the Joint Bond Review Committee gave SLED the go-ahead to purchase the aircraft at an estimated cost of $3.5 million.
SLED Chief Mark Keel said the new chopper replaces a well-used aircraft that he says is “ready to be placed in a museum.”
“The aircraft we’re replacing is a 1968 model Vietnam-era helicopter and we’ve gotten all the useful life we can get out of that aircraft at this time,” he said after Tuesday’s vote.
The funds used to purchase the helicopter will come from money confiscated during investigations and fees collected for criminal record searches.
Keel said the purchase of a new helicopter was a major priority for his agency from a budgetary and safety standpoint.
“Our pilots fly missions every day,” he said. “And they fly missions that are very dangerous, quite frankly, because they are flying very low and very slow most of the time, so they need aircraft that are well-maintained.”
Keel said the purchase makes it possible for two helicopters to remain available for use by SLED.
The agency uses aircraft for various missions from manhunts to searches for vulnerable adults and missing children.
“The aircraft flies on a daily basis on missions from finding as lost child to finding an Alzheimer’s patient that has wondered away from their residence to going after armed fugitives. It really is a benefit to public safety.”
SLED currently employs four helicopters, including a 10-passenger model used for transport missions.