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SLED seeking permission to buy helicopter

COLUMBIA (AP) — South Carolina’s law enforcement agency is seeking permission to buy a new two-passenger helicopter that can assist with state and local investigations.

The State Law Enforcement Division received approval Monday from the Joint Bond Review Committee to spend the estimated $3.5 million. SLED, as the agency is known, wants to use money confiscated during investigations and fees collected for criminal record searches. It could receive final approval next week from the Budget and Control Board.

The two board approvals are largely a technicality. State law requires it for any state aircraft purchase. But legislators have already given SLED authority to spend the accrued money on a helicopter — $1.2 million from confiscated cash and $2.3 million from search fees — as part of the 2014-15 state budget, which took effect July 1. No one spoke against the request Monday.

SLED Chief Mark Keel declined Monday to comment until the approval process is complete.

The agency listed a new helicopter among its budget priorities for 2014-15. Officials say the purchase would ensure that two helicopters remain available for use.

SLED currently has four helicopters. Its large, 10-passenger helicopter is used for transport missions.

It is “not configured or cost-effective for everyday use,” the agency said in a July 21 memo to the bond committee.

A 1968 military surplus helicopter, which flew in the Vietnam War, is out of service for lack of parts. Under the federal government’s loan conditions, it can’t be sold. Instead, it must be returned to the U.S. Department of Defense or some other government agency, according to the memo.

Two existing two-passenger helicopters are used on a daily basis, but were built in 1987 and 1989 and frequently need repair. SLED plans to purchase the same model, to save money in parts and pilot training.

The agency employs five full-time pilots, two full-time employees who are both pilots and mechanics, and four part-time pilots, the memo says.

SLED supports other state and local law enforcement departments when asked. Agency officials have previously said its helicopters are frequently used to help find suspects or missing adults. Other uses noted in the memo include helping the Forestry Commission suppress fires, aerial surveying for the Department of Natural Resources, and accident reconstruction and hurricane evacuation for the Highway Patrol.

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