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Free' Helicopter Obtained Through Military Surplus Program Reportedly Costing Residents of New Jersey Town Millions


“I’m just not sure it justifies the cost."

(Image source: Department of Defense)

The federal program under which state and local law enforcement agencies can receive military surplus equipment for free is one of which the Newark Police Department in Newark, New Jersey, has taken advantage.

In 2002, the city requested a 42-year-old Vietnam-era OH-58A Bell Kiowa helicopter. Three years later in 2005, the department finally received the chopper. Just two years after that, police in Newark obtained a second one for free to utilize for spare parts.

“My main thing was to stop the number of car chases, and people getting hurt,” Anthony Ambrose, then-chief of police, told “A helicopter can reduce the crime rate 7 to 14 percent. The downside is the cost. But if we only stopped carjackings, we would be getting our money’s worth.”

All told, the department has spent more than $2 million on maintenance, refurbishments and operating costs to the aircraft, which reported "does not fly all that often." In fact, flight records obtained by the outlet reportedly show the chopper didn't leave the ground for first six months of 2014.

While a portion of the costs were absorbed with Homeland Security grant dollars and money obtained during drug forfeitures,  local taxpayers were still left with a hefty price tag.

“When you get military, some of those aircraft have been flown hard. It can get expensive," Daniel Schwarzbach, executive director of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, told

Wayne Fisher, a Rutgers University professor and former chairman of the New Jersey Police Training Commission, doesn't doubt that helicopters are a useful resource for law enforcement. Yet, he challenged the high-priced "free" acquisition.

“I’m just not sure it justifies the cost. I’m hard-pressed to believe that the expenditures necessary to maintain a helicopter is a prudent use of finite resources for the Newark police department," Fisher said.

The Newark Police Department police did not immediately provide a comment when asked by TheBlaze on Monday.


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