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Ripon PD part of less costly air units

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Ripon PD part of less costly air units

Officers from the City of Tomball, TX Police Department demonstrated a gyro copter with Ripon Sgt. Steve Merchant watching its capabilities. Ripon was partially responsible for Tomball obtaining t...

/Photo courtesy Ripon PD

POSTED June 17, 2011 12:37 a.m.

RIPON — Ripon Police Department’s powered parachute aviation unit has been approved for another year by the Department of Justice due to the successes officers have posted in its use over the community.

Ripon police 1st Sgt. Steve Merchant returned from his second trip to the East Coast: one for presentation of his unit and the other for observations into the use of aerial craft at a lesser cost than that of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for law enforcement.

The first trip sponsored by the Department of Justice took him to Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., and the second to Maryland and the Bay Bridge Airport and then on to Stensville, Maryland.

“We are part of the NIJ – National Institute of Justice Aviation Technology Program – and the TIJ, Technical Working Group was the actual meeting – our summit for the summer of 2011,” Merchant said.

People from all over the country have shown their interest, whether it is a powered parachute, a gyro-plane, a fixed wing plane.  These are government representatives, law enforcement representatives both active in the group and potential members, the Ripon officer said.     

Merchant said many of the departments across the country demonstrated strong intention to the innovations that were being presented to them in the form of cost-saving aircraft.  With the tight budgets across the country, less expensive alternatives to helicopters have become very attractive, he added.

“Right now powered parachutes are being used in five states including California, Ohio, Texas, Florida, and a tribal nation of Sioux Indians,” Merchant said. “Basically two powered parachutes as part of the meeting are tentatively being reallocated funding to police agencies.  As part of the meetings they were also allocating funds for fixed wing aircraft and for gyro-planes.”

San Joaquin County has a single engine aircraft that is used solely for drug trafficking enforcement and Stanislaus County had to ground its helicopter due to budget constraints.  It was only recently that the Modesto aircraft went back on line.

Merchant told of Sheriff Dan Houston in the Bernalillo County, New Mexico, Sheriff’s Department who was selling his four-year-old, $2.5 million helicopter to allow him to buy 40 new police cars and a less expensive aircraft with the money.  Their Huey helicopter has been grounded pending its sale and a second helicopter is on standby.

“The Tomball Police Department in Texas is the first law enforcement agency in the nation to institute a gyro-plane – not gyro copter – law enforcement aviation program.  And the Ripon Police Department along with NIJ was directly responsible for Tomball getting the gyro-plane,” Merchant said.

The Ripon officer said the chief of police from Tomball, Texas was at a conference in Coronodo, Southern California, last year and saw his presentation on the use of the powered parachute.  He thought the powered parachute was incredible and wanted one for his agency. 

“The problem was in Texas they have too many winds and the weather conditions wouldn’t allow its use.  So he was kind of heartbroken because he was looking forward to getting a low-cost aviation unit for his department.  In talks with NIJ and the aviation program, they decided with his terrain and where he flies the gyro-plane would work a lot better.  Look up the Tomball Police Department online and you will see they have a gyro-plane program that just started in March,” Merchant said.  “He credits the Ripon Police Department with his ultimate success in getting the low cost aviation unit.”

Merchant said his department is reporting monthly to the government on their successes with the powered parachute to help in the ongoing research on the program.  He added that his is not the only agency doing good things with the program, noting Homebay, Florida, has been very successful with the parachute.

He added that Escambia County Sheriff’s Department in Alabama “is really pushing the envelope” with the powered parachute technology.  Smith County Texas is another area that has had very effective use of the craft, he added. 

“The powered parachute from Escambia was actually used to survey the recent tornado damage having to go to another state – offering his services to the sheriff of another jurisdiction,” Merchant said.  “In the area he was flying there were 33 people that had been killed.”

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