HOUSTON Mayor Annise Parker is defending her police chief s decision to scale back the flying time for HPD s helicopters.

On Monday, KHOU 11 News reported how HPD s helicopter unit had its fuel budget slashed by 75 percent, meaning choppers will be grounded more often.

According to sources within HPD, they won t fly more than three hours a day. That s down from around 20 previously.

Parker on Tuesday said the decision should come as no surprise to council members, who recently approved HPD s budget.

The helicopter fleet is not grounded, Parker said. The helicopter fleet is being dispatched. They can respond to emergencies. They can provide backup to officers, all the things that we need them to do. But clearly, we re trying to limit the amount of just general flight time.

Still, some council members are asking the police chief to reconsider the cutbacks.

That wasn t made very clear to us during the budget sessions, said Council Member James Rodriguez.

The head of the Houston Police Officers Union, Gary Blankinship, also said it s a costly move, since the city will fail to utilize 28 pilots.

Extreme waste of resources, Blankinship said. It costs a lot of money to train somebody to be an HPD helicopter pilot.

He said he also worries it will cost lives.

This has officer safety issues written all over it, he said. Criminals getting away.

A spokesman for HPD Chief Charles McClelland said Tuesday that it was department policy not to discuss flight schedules.

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