TAMPA, Fla. – East Tampa residents have grown weary of the frequent presence of Tampa police helicopters flying over their homes at night.
However, the Tampa Police Department (TPD) defended the use of aerial surveillance, stating that it plays a crucial role in combating crime on the ground.
One resident, Jason Marlow from southeast Seminole Heights, expressed how he has become accustomed to the constant sound of helicopter blades, akin to the songs of birds in his backyard.
Another resident, Nick Machuca, even tracked TPD’s helicopters on the FlightAware app to highlight their regular presence in the sky.
In response to residents’ concerns, TPD claimed that they attempt to be considerate during nighttime flights by flying at higher altitudes.
Nevertheless, residents, including Marlow and Machuca, provided evidence of the helicopters’ flight patterns, describing them as repetitive and never-ending loops resembling “spaghetti models.”
City council members raised the issue of these flight patterns with Tampa police Maj. Rich Mills during a meeting. Mills explained that the tight orbiting patterns observed in the flight data indicated police helicopters responding to specific situations and attempting to locate something of interest.
According to TPD, their helicopters are responsible for about 90% of the nighttime helicopter traffic in East Tampa, with approximately 71.6% of their flight time occurring in the evening or at night. The police department justified the extensive airtime by pointing out that most criminal activities tend to happen during these hours.
Mills presented videos to the city council, illustrating how the aviation unit has successfully aided in locating weapons and suspects during nighttime operations. In May alone, the aviation unit assisted in recovering 15 guns and apprehending suspects involved in 16 felony cases.
Despite the benefits highlighted by TPD, residents persistently complain about the constant presence of police helicopters overhead. Councilwoman Gwendolyn Henderson acknowledged the helicopters’ role in public safety but also acknowledged the noise issue raised by residents.
TPD stated that during the day, helicopters fly at 700 feet, while at night, they maintain an altitude of 1,000 feet or higher to reduce noise disturbances. Nonetheless, residents contend that a quieter and more cost-effective solution should be explored.
Machuca raised concerns about the potential discriminatory deployment of helicopters in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods in Tampa. The lack of specific rules governing helicopter use added to residents’ frustrations.
The meeting concluded with a 40-minute discussion without reaching a definitive vote or decision on the matter. The issue remains ongoing, with residents seeking a balance between public safety and minimizing disruptions caused by police helicopter flights.