Legislator: Nassau police helicopter pilot shortage could pose public safety risk

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WOODBURY -

Nassau County has a shortage of police helicopter pilots, News 12 Long Island has learned.

Police use their helicopters to search for suspects, missing swimmers and transport critically injured people to trauma centers. But Nassau Police Benevolent Association President James McDermott says many times over the last year, officers on the ground will call for aviation and get responses saying, "No pilot available," or no answer from the aviation bureau.

Before a police chopper can launch, a pilot and tactical police officers, who are also trained as paramedics, are needed. Right now, there are only four pilots for the entire aviation unit.

The union says there have been several recent instances where Suffolk police or the NYPD had to send their chopper because Nassau's chopper wasn't staffed. The union says the county needs to train more pilots. In the meantime, the union wants County Executive Laura Curran to authorize more overtime to fill the staffing gaps.

Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said in a statement: "...due to retirements, injuries and pilots being deployed with the Military Reserves. The department has actively posted requests for qualified officers and continues to train pilots for these positions; however, this training is lengthy and labor intensive."

News 12 brought the issue to the attention of Legislator Denise Ford, the chair of the Public Safety Committee. She checked the figures and later said the aviation unit had $200,000 in overtime last year. She says this year, the unit has a $660,000 budget that should include two more pilots. Ford calls it "a matter of public safety."

The police department says the two pilot trainees should be ready to fly "soon." The union says one will be done training in two months, the other a year from now.

The county executive's office did not respond to the union's criticism that she should authorize enough overtime to staff the aviation unit 24 hours a day until the new pilots are ready.

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