Police Department – Eliminate the Marine and Helicopter Unit

Savings: $6.2 million

The Police Department’s Marine and Helicopter Unit is comprised of “two distinct operations: Marine Operations and Helicopter Operations.”[1]  “Marine Operations personnel (all of whom are public safety divers) are the first responders to any maritime incident. Marine Operations personnel have three areas of responsibility. They are Search, Rescue, Recovery Operations, Law Enforcement and Homeland Security.”[2]  The Helicopter unit has two helicopters, which among other activities, “play a large role in the homeland security field by having the ability to conduct aerial reconnaissance of target locations, and evaluating demonstrations and other large events.”[3]

Under this option, the City would eliminate the marine and helicopter unit and its 51 budgeted positions with a total budgeted compensation of $6.2 million, assuming fringe benefits are 43 percent of salary.  There would be additional equipment savings as the City would no longer have to maintain the police boats and helicopters.

Proponents might argue that the duties of the marine unit could be performed by the Coast Guard and the Illinois Conservation police, which share the Chicago Marine Safety Station, the facility that currently houses the marine unit.[4]  Others might argue that maintaining the City’s helicopters is expensive and that spending money on street cops provides a better public safety return.  They might point to Indianapolis, which is considering getting rid of its police helicopter.[5] Opponents might argue that the marine unit provides life-saving search and rescue operations that could not be completely replaced by the Coast Guard or Illinois Conservation police.[6]  Additionally, others might argue that the helicopter unit is necessary because it serves not only Chicago, but assists the Cook County Sheriff and thus provides services to all of Cook County.[7]


Discussion and Additional Questions

An important consideration when deciding whether or not to implement this option is how much demand there currently is for the service of this unit.  Some questions might include:

  • What are the different type of calls for service the Marine and Helicopter Unit responds to and how many of each does it respond to each week?
  • What is the capacity of the Coast Guard to take over the responsibilities of the Marine and Helicopter Unit?

Budget Details

Dept: Police Department, 57 Bureau: NA
Fund: Corporate Fund, 0100 Approp Code: Salary and Wages on Payroll, 0005
The appropriations are located on page 145 and the position schedule is on page 154 of the 2011 Annual Appropriation Ordinance.



[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] United States Coast Guard. Sector Lake Michigan. “Station (small) Chicago”.


[5] The IndyChannel.com. “City Budget Cuts Could Ground IMPD’s Helicopter”. September 16, 2011.


[6] Williams-Harris, Deanese. “8 pulled from water near Navy Pier”. Chicago Tribune. August 27, 2011.