Sheriff Tom Dart gets Cook County funding for helicopter to track carjackers

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Thursday his agency will acquire a helicopter to track carjackers, look for missing people and offer aid during large-scale emergencies.

The Cook County Board approved $11.4 million Thursday in next year’s budget to get one, according to Dart, who said the money was carried over from funds that weren’t spent in the 2022 budget.

"This is an incredibly important investment by the county," Dart said.

The Chicago Police Department owns two Bell helicopters, one built in 1994, the other in 2006. But the helicopters, which it shares with the sheriff’s office, often are grounded for maintenance problems and don’t have the navigation equipment to fly in poor weather.

The sheriff’s office also has obtained a $2.5 million federal grant toward acquiring a helicopter and related equipment. The final cost, including staffing, storage and maintenance, is being determined, according to sheriff’s officials, who haven’t decided whether it will be bought or leased.


Dart said he hopes to have a new helicopter in the air as soon as next summer.

The Chicago Police Department is preparing to buy two helicopters, according to city officials. Last month, the city’s budget director said $11.5 million was earmarked for them.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose Southwest Side ward is home to hundreds of Chicago police officers, has called for the city to upgrade its helicopter fleet.

"Every major municipality in this country has purchased helicopters — more than a hundred of the top eight major cities," O’Shea said at a September budget hearing. "We’re still flying up there with helicopters from when many of us were still in high school."

Other cities have larger police helicopter fleets. The Los Angeles Police Department has 17 helicopters. The New York Police Department has nine, including two new ones.