Columbus police helicopter goes on skywriting joyride

The flight pattern has already drawn criticism from multiple members of City Council

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Flight path of CPD helicopter via FlightAware

Overnight, one of the Columbus Division of Police helicopters traced an, um, interesting route, circling over a neighborhood on the Southeast Side of the city and spelling out "CPD" in the air. (You can view the flight path here via FlightAware.)

The "joyride," as it was described on Twitter by Columbus City Council president pro tempore Elizabeth Brown, has drawn wide criticism on social media today, with Brown writing that she was "beyond frustrated" with the flight path in light of a bill she proposed last summer to decrease the size of the city's helicopter fleet by one. (The measure was eventually tabled after CPD argued the helicopters were essential.)

Council member Rob Dorans, who supported Brown's legislation to reduce the CPD helicopter fleet, also chimed in on Twitter, writing, "We were told over and over again how essential every second of airtime was. This joyride was just plain dumb and a waste of taxpayer dollars."

In June 2020, the Columbus Dispatch reported the city's annual operational costs for the CPD helicopter fleet at $452,000 and fuel costs at $249,000.

In addition to the wasted dollars, several accounts on Twitter also noted that the flight path, including the skywriting portion of the trek, hewed strictly to predominantly Black neighborhoods

The city is currently in the midst of renegotiating its contract with the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, which represents 28 law enforcement agencies in Central Ohio, including CPD, and pressure on officials to adopt some kind of police reform has increased amid the ongoing Black lives matter protests within Columbus.

Alive reached out to CPD via email for comment and we will update this post when we receive a reply.

UPDATE: The Columbus Division of Police released a statement via Twitter early Saturday evening in which it announced that the commander who oversees the aviation unit would be reviewing the flight pattern and details at the flight.

"The pilot navigated throughout the city during the flight and responded on several high priority runs, including a stabbing and an assault in progress," it read.

The statement said that the letters "CPD" were spelled out in less than 10 minutes between dispatched runs and at what CPD described as "normal patrol altitude."

"No calls for service were missed during this time and no additional fuel was utilized, but even the appearance that officers were not operating within the mission of the aviation section is not acceptable," the statement read.

Read it in full here.