Questionable use of sheriff's 'copter conjures memories

Posted by Ken Carlson on June 28, 2013 

The recent flap over the use of a Stanislaus County sheriff’s helicopter for a private fund-raiser calls to mind the interesting revelations of eight years ago.

Deputies, along with a helicopter and other hardware owned by the Sheriff’s Department, were photographed for a July 2005 catalog of 5.11 Tactical, a private business that sells uniforms and apparel for law enforcement personnel. Then Bee reporter Michael Mooney wrote about the issue and also did a review of flight records for the Sheriff’s Department aircraft.

His stories revealed that helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft had been used for questionable purposes.

In April 2000, a department helicopter ferried wine and glasses from a hilltop winery at Diablo Grande to the country club, where members of the California State Sheriffs’ Association had gathered for a conference. Former Stanislaus Sheriff Les Weidman was then president of the association.

The flight logs showed the aircraft were used the majority of the time for fighting crime. But officials occasionally used the aircraft for executive shuttles, costing the county as much as $650 an hour.

At least 30 times, Weidman used county-owned aircraft for travel to out-of-town meetings, as far away as San Luis Obispo. Shorter trips were made to Sacramento, Fresno and Santa Nella. The flight records also showed that county officials used helicopters and planes for aerial tours and VIP shuttles.

Another local law enforcement agency discovered its employees had been posing for photographs.

Former Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden performed an internal investigation into catalog photo shoots involving officers of the city department. Some of the officers served as models for a company that manufactured boots.

Wasden noted that officers were allowed to engage in modeling on their own time, but were not allowed to display logos or patches identifying them with the MPD. “We are not in the professional endorsement business,” he was quoted as saying.

Eight years ago, Stanislaus County tightened up a vehicle policy to make sure county-owned aircraft were not used for commercial purposes or to benefit a business enterprise. That policy does not specifically address the use of a county helicopter for a fund-raising event such as the one May 15 the Saddle Creek Resort in Calaveras County.

But county leaders seem to agree it was inappropriate to use the sheriff’s helicopter to drop golf balls for an event to benefit outdoor education programs.


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