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Kinston mayor says eastern NC needs more police helicopters

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KINSTON, Lenoir County - Kinston Mayor BJ Murphy made an urgent plea to Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina legislative leaders on Tuesday, saying the need for more law enforcement aircraft in eastern North Carolina shouldn't be overlooked in these final days of budget negotiations.

Murphy sent a letter Tuesday, citing the lack of available resources made readily apparent during a manhunt for the "armed and dangerous" Ricky Ward that spanned several weeks earlier this year, and was of a heightened capacity on April 26. Murphy says the manhunt closed off major sections of Kinston's downtown area as door-to-door searches were conducted, starting at 3:30 a.m. and not ending until Ward's arrest at 6 p.m.

Acording to Murphy, air support was provided by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, while the State Bureau of Investigation utilized robots to help the Kinston Police Department, Wayne County Sheriff's Office and Lenoir County Sheriff's Office SWAT teams. Murphy says similar manhunts over the past decade have resulted in the deaths of two officers, and Kinston "can stand to lose no more."

Air support, Murphy said, was requested at 5 a.m., but the team dispatched from Salisbury didn't arrive on scene for another four hours because of the travel distance. Murphy said in the past, units would have been dispatched from the North Carolina Global TransPark in Kinston, but budget cuts implemented in 2013-14 reduced staffing at the NCSHP. Where NCSHP once boasted 10 helicopters with 20 pilots, it now has access to six helicopters and 10 pilots.

"I'm certain there are dozens of other stories from across the state where response times are severely hindered by NCSHP's lack of resources to appropriately support law enforcement agencies, such as last week when the Salisbury crew had to drive to Raleigh due to inclement weather then fly to Windsor to help save an 80-year-old man," Murphy wrote.

Murphy asked for more funding to bolster the NCSHP fleet in both western and eastern locations in the state.

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