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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Crash "Solves" Topeka P.D. Mess


The April 4 crash of a Topeka, Kan. Police Dept. Robinson Helicopter R44 may have resolved a running controversy over that department’s aviation unit.

The R44 crashed near the campus of Washburn University in central Topeka. The three officers on board suffered only minor injuries, but department officials quoted in Topeka said the aircraft was a total loss.

Airborne law enforcement in the city has been at the center of a political controversy. Mayor William Bunten vetoed a plan to buy a second R44. Then the city council made an end run around him and approved the acquisition. That triggered a lawsuit by a local district attorney against the city council. A procedural review then determined that the acquisition couldn’t proceed unless the city council overrode the mayor’s veto.

The council convened a meeting April 15 to do that. But the needed seven of nine members failed to vote to override the veto, which therefore stood and nullified the purchase contract. Council members said the crash undercut their willingness to continue opposing the mayor, adding that they had not received indications of support for acquisition from constituents after the crash.

Topeka’s police chief said he will re-evaluate the helicopter program in the wake of the crash. — Ernie Stephens

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