Mar 10, 2022 - News

Proposal would give Minnesota State Patrol $38M for more helicopters

helicopter against night sky
Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Minnesota lawmakers are weighing whether to send the Minnesota State Patrol $45 million to buy more helicopters and replace other aging aircraft.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials say helicopters are an important tool for curbing carjackings, conducting search and rescue missions and safely apprehending fleeing drivers.

Details: Legislation heard in a state Senate transportation committee this week would appropriate $38 million for three new twin-engine helicopters and $7.1 million for three new airplanes.

  • While the cash would expand the size of the fleet, some of the purchases would replace older models that now need to be grounded for maintenance, said Republican state Sen. John Jasinski, who's carrying the legislation.

What they're saying: State Patrol Col. Matt Langer told lawmakers Tuesday that aircraft allows troopers to be "more strategic" in their pursuits and avoid dangerous high-speed chases by informing ground units "with really incredible precision" of a suspect's movements.

  • "One of the things we can do right now is to fly more because it's proven to be really advantageous," he said of efforts to address carjacking and reckless driving.

The other side: Rich Neumeister, a well-known advocate on privacy and government transparency laws, urged lawmakers to include a provision commissioning a report on surveillance practices if the fleet is expanded.

The intrigue: While Langer's testimony appeared to back the Senate proposal, House Transportation Committee Chair Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) told Axios he wasn't aware of any formal aviation funding requests from State Patrol.

  • "We have not had any communication from them that this is an interest and a priority," he said.
  • The Minneapolis Democrat said he'd want to carefully examine a request of this size before taking a position on the idea.

Flashback: Arrests from aviation-related operations don't always translate into charges, as the results of one January 2021 crackdown that involved substantial aerial support showed.

  • Police acknowledged the "unsettling" noise following that multi-day sting, which involved several agencies.

What's next: A Senate committee set aside proposed legislation for inclusion in a future spending package. A House companion bill has not been introduced.

  • Langer said State Patrol is wrapping data collection this week related to "how and when [we] can buy more" aircraft.
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