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The Dripby Mark Reutter7:37 pmMar 28, 20130

The ups and downs of the Foxtrot Four

Mayor Rawlings-Blake backs down from last week’s budget plan to ground one of four police helicopters.

Above: One of the four new police choppers at Martin State Airport.

The Baltimore Police Department won’t be losing one of its Foxtrot helicopters after all.

As part of her proposed 2014 budget, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced last week that the city would reduce its police aviation fleet from four helicopters to three, saving $1.2 million. The savings was one of the few cutbacks to a police budget that was otherwise considerably higher than its current level of spending.

Today, though, the mayor’s staff told The Sun’s Justin Fenton that the city will keep its full complement of EC120B choppers, known in the department as the “Foxtrot Four.”

Today’s change of course echoes a similar flight pattern in 2010-11 when Rawlings-Blake threatened to ground the entire helicopter fleet as a budget-cutting measure only to support the purchase of a new fleet – at a cost of $9.5 million – delivered to the city last summer.

It was one of these new choppers that was on the chopping block in the 2014 budget based on “a needs assessment” conducted by the Department of Finance, according to documents released last week.

No Competitive Bids

The latest Foxtrots that buzz around the city to spot criminal activity – sometimes to the annoyance of citizens who complained of their obtrusive nature to the mayor during a budget workshop last year – had been strongly backed by former police commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

Bealefeld argued that the aircraft was an essential asset to police on the ground, able to spot criminals running down alleys, pursue dirt bikes and discover illegal caches of marijuana growing on porches and back lots.

Equally important was the replacement of the fleet, which was reaching the end of its useful live.

In an unusual deal ratified by Rawlings-Blake and other members of the Board of Estimates, the helicopter order was awarded to Texas-based American Eurocopter Corp. without competitive bids.

The Police Department and Bureau of Purchasing justified the “sole-source” contract as cheaper for the city because Eurocopter had supplied the original Foxtrots.

As a result, the city’s supply of parts would be compatible with the new fleet and ground and air personnel would be qualified to maintain and operate this type of helicopter without retraining.

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