NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Bill de Blasio's use of NYPD helicopters to get around the city has jumped in recent months, despite him saying he preferred not to use them, NYPD records show.
The documents released to DNAinfo New York under a Freedom of Information Law request show the mayor has flown on police choppers 22 times since taking office — 16 of those flights occurring within the last five months.
During his first year at City Hall, de Blasio used the helicopters only twice — both times to respond to the Bronx with the police commissioner in the wake of a police shooting.
The following year, de Blasio used NYPD choppers only three times — to go, for example, to the NYPD’s firing range at Rodman’s Neck on Sept. 3, 2015, and to attend a “Iine of duty” funeral in St. Albans, Queens, on Oct. 28, 2015.
During his 2013 election campaign, de Blasio cast himself firmly as the “anti-Bloomberg” candidate, in contrast to a billionaire businessman who owned helicopters and a private jet that he used to travel on weekends to, for example, his Bermuda home.
And in recent interviews, de Blasio has downplayed his use of the NYPD helicopters after DNAinfo New York reported that he had used a chopper in October to avoid Friday rush hour traffic to attend an electrician union’s ceremony in Long Island City. He took an 8-mile ride aboard an NYPD helicopter from Prospect Park.
At the time, he said he had used the choppers only a "handful" of times, but declined to say where he was that day before the flight. Sources say he was conducting a political campaign related work.
Two weeks ago, DNAinfo New York reported that the NYPD had declined its Freedom of Information Law request for the records.
At the time, the NYPD claimed that it could neither find the records, which are meticulously kept by the NYPD’s Aviation Unit, and department officials insisted that even if they found them, they would not turn them over anyway because they “would reveal non-routine techniques and procedures.”
Both those claims were denounced by open-government experts. The NYPD flight records were released late Wednesday, and contain bare-bones data on flight times, pickup and landing zones, and fuel usage (helicopters burn about $600 in fuel an hour).
Virtually all of the flights by de Blasio were tied to his job: attending town hall meetings, press conferences, or responding to emergencies involving police officers or firefighters seriously injured or killed in the line of duty, according to the NYPD records and the mayor’s schedule.
But not all of the flights were for City Hall work purposes. In September, the mayor took a helicopter to attend a presidential debate with his wife at Hofstra University, records show.
The mayor’s spokesman, Eric Phillips, insists decisions about the mayor’s travel arrangements are made by the NYPD, which does not discuss the mayor’s security.
"The current mayor's use of the helicopter is consistent with prior mayors,” said Phillips, providing data showing Bloomberg’s used helicopters during 44 times during 2002, his first year in office. By 2013, his chopper flights dipped to 14.
A former city official directly involved in Bloomberg’s helicopter use told “On the Inside” that he did not see a problem with de Blasio’s chopper flights.
"Using 'copters for 'Night Out Against Crime,' or multiple first day of school events, or getting to a burned fireman or shot cop at Jacobi Hospital, is hardly a scandal," the official said.