Who Flew? Flight Logs of Sheriff’s Helicopter Raise Questions of Appropriate Use

The view of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean from 1,400 feet, just peeking over top of the nearby ridge of the Diablo Mountain Range, sounds like an idyllic Friday night of adventure or schmoozing.

Someone enjoyed that scenery June 25, onboard Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith’s N621LS “Star1” helicopter—representing her initials and birthdate—on a one-hour and 46-minute flight circling above Saratoga, Cupertino and the Lexington Reservoir from 7:23pm to 9:06pm, conveniently in time for the 8:30pm sunset that evening.

The circuitous route around the South Bay didn’t mirror any typical patrols along busy development corridors or responses to calls of service beelining from takeoff to landing, all etched onto FlightAware, a publicly viable aircraft tracking app.

It’s unclear whether it was business as usual policing, a Sheriff’s Office Youth Cadet Program ride along or something else entirely; The Sheriff’s Office took the full 20 days legally allotted to answer simple questions about its flight logs. The first response attempted to dodge revealing any information at all, claiming files were off limits. Follow-ups uncovered (contradictory) info for two service calls—a man down on a trail and boats stuck in Alviso’s mud—but deputies did not provide official passenger logs.

That’s not unusual; county attorneys started drafting subpoena policies after Sheriff Smith refused to release records to an independent civilian watchdog group looking into use-of-force trends, misconduct allegations, public complaints and inmate grievances. Smith claims access to the documents would obstruct her office's investigative functions.

Without answers, public watchdogs can only speculate as to whether the ultrasecret copter mission was in any way linked to the lovefest between the Sheriff’s team and the outgoing city manager of Sheriff’s-Office-contract-city Cupertino, whose going away party was that same day?

Or maybe it was just a coincidence?

Update: Sheriff Laurie Smith contacted San Jose Inside after this story went to press, confirming there was no sight seeing tour taken June 25, and the only people on board were the pilot and an observer. She offered to open up any flight logs necessary to set the record straight. 

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The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

7 Comments

  1. A vanity plate for a taxpayer provided helicopter. Very bad optics. Like a lot of political jobs, I think Smith has an out of control ego and bad judgment. Public service, right…

  2. Are you f’n kidding me? We provided flight logs YEARS so now showing she was using her helicopter too give her friends joy rides. Y’all didn’t give a didn’t single hot damn. And I’m guessing you’re still screening my comments too. We’ll see.

  3. Another slanderous piece by the San Jose inside. I am wondering if the comments above are going to be retracted? Now that the sheriff has provided the information, are you willing to retract your comments?

    The original piece, before the sheriff provided information, read more like an opposition candidate’s campaign hit piece then a news article. The silly season (elections) must be arriving. Can we expect a “progressive candidate“ to soon announce, in the San Jose inside, his/her/they/them/their (or whatever) run for sheriff?

    This entire article was a set up to slander the office of the Sheriff.

  4. I like the wording used in the ‘Update’. Sheriff Smith ‘Confirmed’ that no sightseeing tour took place on June 25th. Great. However, what kind of evidence did she provide to verify her claim? She offered to open up flight logs.
    Does that mean the ‘confirmation’ was verified without seeing the flight logs?

    In addition, it’s curious that Smith didn’t make a blanket statement that ‘using a police helicopter for private flights’ is against her policy and NEVER happens.

    Maybe Fly could look into it.

  5. The Fly and SJI seem desperate for a story. Disappointing tabloid stuff this time around. Almost amateur YouTube type of stuff.

  6. Santa Clara City does not have a chopper and San Jose PD seems to love flying all over the Rose Garden area for minor or lackluster reasons?

    What thresholds are in place for the use of Helicopters by San Jose? What is the cost-benefit analysis? Fuel waste? Pollution (noise, air, etc). Seems like an expensive toy that they pull out whenever they want often waking neighborhoods in the middle of the night. Dozens of times have had to spend an hour getting the toddler back to sleep because of an hour of circling and for what?

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