A Little Rock police helicopter once used as an eye the in sky for officers is up for auction.
The department's 1972 Bell Jet Ranger helicopter is being sold for a minimum of $100,000 and is up for auction online on GovDeals.com, a website that allows government agencies to sell surplus or confiscated items online.
The funds from the sale will be used for upkeep and maintenance on the department's two in-service helicopters, said Lt. Casey Clark with the police department's special operations division.
The city Board of Directors approved the sale of the helicopter in June.
The helicopter came to the department in 1997 through the Federal Surplus Personal Property Donation Program, according to the city resolution approving the sale.
It was refurbished and placed into service operation. It needed a transmission rebuild in September 2012, according to a department memo outlining its history.
Clark said he's hopeful the city will be able to sell the helicopter in the online auction.
"We've had some interest in it from all over the world," Clark said.
The department has received interest about the helicopter from people in other states and from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
The funds from the sale are expected to pay for a paint job for a newer, 2001 Bell helicopter the department received in 2015, along with the maintenance fees for attaching a spotlight to that aircraft, Clark said.
The aviation unit often flies patrols during large events like Riverfest or the University of Arkansas Razorback football game, he said. Civilian pilots fly the helicopters while an observer in the helicopter communicates with officers and other personnel on the ground.
"It just gives us a lot larger presence," Clark said.
Besides large events, the aviation unit helps with criminal operations and can assist in search and rescue situations, said Randy Reaves, who works part time as an observer with the unit and retired from the police department as a sworn officer in 2011.
"It's a big asset to the citizens of the city and the officers," he said.
With their high vantage point in the air, helicopters can follow suspects and give detailed reports to police on the ground, Reaves said.
He remembers in the early 2000s when the aviation unit tracked a suspect in a helicopter during a police pursuit after the man tried to run over police.
"The fellow was on the wrong side of the freeway," Reaves said.
The police chase started on Asher Avenue and Maple Street in Little Rock and ended outside Brinkley when the man wrecked and began running on foot, fleeing into a lake, he said.
Reaves said the unit is also called to assist search and rescue missions from the air by providing information to officers on the ground. A helicopter spotlight allows observers to locate missing people in the dark, and an infrared system allows officials to detect a person's body heat from the sky.
The aviation unit began in 1995 when the department received a Bell 206 helicopter from the Minnesota National Guard, according to the department memo.
As Little Rock grew, the department decided to expand its operations since no other law enforcement agency in the region had a police helicopter, except the Arkansas State Police, said Lt. Nathan Tackett, who spent more than a decade with the unit.
The department was later downsized and began operating as a part-time unit in January 2003 because of budget constraints, Tackett said.
Full-time civilian employees were laid off and the division's budget was cut as a result, he said. Now the aviation unit is staffed by part-time pilots, along with part-time civilian observers and sworn police officers who are trained as observers, Tackett said.
Even though the department was downsized years ago, Reaves said the unit is still on call and can respond if emergency situations come up.
The Arkansas State Police has one helicopter in its aviation unit, said department spokesman Bill Sadler.
The agency uses the helicopter to monitor traffic flow and also help out in the criminal division by supporting manhunt operations and other tactical situations, he said.
The Pulaski County sheriff's office does not operate any helicopters and requests service from Little Rock's aviation unit or the state police when they need helicopter support.
"It's an invaluable asset when you use it," Tackett said.
Metro on 10/10/2016