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Despite calls to defund police, MNPD to use approved money to upgrade helicopters

Posted at 6:37 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 19:51:17-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — With efforts to defund police departments in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, officials with the Metro Nashville Police Department are defending their proposed budget.

Even before the nationwide movement, Metro council members already approved a $154 million capital spending plan in March, which includes providing $12 million for MNPD to purchase two new helicopters for its aviation unit.

The helicopters were later questioned in a report by the Nashville People's Budget Coalition, which is comprised of Black Lives Matter Nashville, Free Hearts, Gideon's Army, Music City Riders United, No Exceptions Prison Collective, People's Alliance for Transit, Housing, & Equity, Southerners on New Ground Nashville and Workers' Dignity/Dignidad Obrera. The coalition wants to divest money out of the police department and into communities instead.

"We deserve the equipment to protect the citizens, and defunding and taking that equipment away from us can overall have an impact on how we are able to prevent crime in the future," Lt. Mickey Yentes of MNPD told NewsChannel 5.

Out of the aviation unit's six helicopters, four of them are military surplus with no weapons and used during the Vietnam War era. Yentes said they're nearing the end of their life span and will need upgrades. By purchasing two new helicopters, not only will they have rescue equipment and better technology, but can retire the four older helicopters to send back to the military.

"The longer you have them the older they get and the more repairs are needed, and repairs cost more money," Yentes said. "It's worth the money because it's an investment to protect the city."

In 2019, the helicopters were flown for more than 945 hours for patrolling or responding to calls. Stolen vehicles made up the most calls followed by robberies and missing people.

Jamel Campbell-Gooch of Gideon's Army and the Nashville People's Budget Coalition said while the helicopters are useful, helping the communities where police frequent is just as important.

"We need equal investment in our communities, fully-funded schools, good healthcare and child care and access for good paying jobs where you can afford to live in that area is equally as important as policing because all of those create a safe community," Campbell-Gooch said.

The Nashville People's Budget Coalition just finished a survey on Tuesday asking people how much money should be moved away from the police department and where it should go. Results will be released at a later date.

Campbell-Gooch said the point of the group is to give community members a voice in the decision process.

"That process should be rooted in people participating. It should be broken down in such a simple way that anyone between, my mom, my young people who are of voting age can participate in where their tax dollars are going," he added.

The city is already in a budget crisis with Mayor John Cooper proposing a plan to increase property taxes by 32 percent. About 37 percent of the proposed budget is for education followed by public safety at 20 percent, which includes law enforcement, jails and fire department and EMS.