Pasadena Police Host Open House at Altadena Heliport

On Saturday the Pasadena PD's Air Operations section hosted an open house of their heliport, located in Altadena, in a PR effort to help stem the rising tide of complaints coming from both Pasadena and Altadena residents about the noise

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 6/6/2011

UPDATED: For years Pasadenans have complained to the city and the Police Department about what they see as nuisance helicopters that fly and even hover above their houses on a regular basis late into the night without explanation. A group of Northwest Pasadena residents have even formed a group, Pasadena DMZ (for demilitarization), to bring their concerns to the City Council but so far to no avail.
In an attempt to address these growing complaints, the Air Operations Division of the Police Department held another open house Saturday at their heliport, which is located on Yucca Lane in Altadena. Staged demonstrations were also presented to show the audience how the Police Department utilizes helicopters in different ways.
Hundreds of people showed up to learn about the department's fleet, which includes a recently purchased MD500E model helicopter that the department claims is quieter because of the number of blades it uses, and a lot of the other equipment both the street officers and the airborne officers use to fight crime.
This reporter first wrote about the conflict between Northwest Pasadena residents and the Pasadena PD's use of helicopters for the Pasadena Weekly in December 2009.
The Altadena Sheriff's Department dispatches its helicopters from the LA County Sheriff's Department's heliport in Long Beach, but for emergency situations the Altadena Sheriffs have contracted with the Pasadena police to request their help in exchange for deputies helping police near unclear borders along Pasadena and Altadena.
Even some Altadenans have a problem with the noise the helicopters generate, the odd flight hours, the necessity of using them as a crime fighting tool instead of putting more officers on the ground, and the cost associated with purchasing and maintaining helicopters and equipment.
When asked if they'd heard of noise and other complaints regarding the helicopters from Altadenans, both Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez and Lt. Michael Ingram, who took over as head commander of Air Operations after Capt. Mulhall retired last December, said they had not.
"We haven't received complaints from Altadenans," said Ingram. "In fact, we've got a great relationship with the neighborhood. We have certain flight routes in and out of the heliport to minimize the impact on the community around here."
Sanchez said he's even seen complaints go down since the purchase of the newer, quieter helicopter, which he says flies "quite a bit quieter." He said they try to use that particular aircraft during the evening hours when noise is more sensitive.
"Surprisingly, no, we have not heard of complaints from Altadenans," said Sanchez. "I think that they're acutely aware that the heliport is here. I think the neighborhood associations do a pretty good job of educating new residents about those kinds of things, so they do a real good job in that regard."
However, several Altadenans spoke to Patch about their concerns regarding the helicopters, which they say have been going on for years.
"My mom lives east of Lincoln and I remember even as a kid being bothered by the noise of the helicopters," said 25-year-old Colin Burton. "I would wake up to the house rattling and search lights from the helicopters shining in and around my house."
Two Altadena residents, who live right next to the heliport and requested to remain anonymous, said they used to be really upset about the noise from the helicopters but that they realized there was nothing they could do about it. Over the years they said they've gotten used to the noise, but still consider it a nuisance.
Life-long Altadena resident Joseph Stabile recalled an incident recently where a Sheriff's helicopter circled his house and surrounding houses for almost an hour.
"I hear this helicopter and it's circling around my house at first," said Stabile. "I was near the center until it started flying in bigger circles, keeping me at the edge of where it was flying, like it seemed it was watching me in my backyard. After about 30 minutes I called the Sheriff's Department and they said they couldn't tell me anything about it for give me any information about what was going on. I asked to speak to the watch commander and they said the same thing, basically, 'You don't need to know.'
He said the helicopter flew in circles very low to the ground, around 200 to 300 feet, for about 50 minutes.
"That's not that high up," he said. "Helicopters are really loud when they're that low. It was rattling my house and I was getting pissed off. Within three or four minutes after I called the Sheriff's station, the helicopter left."
Pasadena DMZ, which was founded by Ricardo Costa, once a candidate for Congress on the Green Party ticket, recently held a meeting and is in the process of drafting a study that will be presented to the City Council. If rejected, the group plans to pursue conducting the study on their own.
"We committed to collecting signatures demanding the study, and to push for an actual policy regarding dispatching," said Costa. "Chief Sanchez has said he won't 'tie his officers' hands,' which means no policy unless it is demanded."
The Altadena Sheriff's, however, is so underequipped that their policy is to dispatch helicopters only when they're needed for a call, according to Lt. Joseph Dempsey. He also said that he hasn't heard many complaints about the noise but noted that besides search and rescue helicopters they rarely dispatch their crime-fighting helicopters.
"Generally speaking, we get inquires all the time about why the helicopters are flying around," said Dempsey. "The majority of the time we let them know what's going on, unless it's an operation that we're not supposed to release information about. Generally we tell them what we can tell them as quickly as possible because we have a lot going on. Regarding the complaints about noise, it's just one of those things where there's not much we can do about it."