Vermont law enforcement agencies may soon have less access to the kind of helicopter support used during last week’s round-up of alleged drug dealers in Franklin County.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol intends to reduce the six aircraft and 22 agents operating out of Border Patrol’s Plattsburgh (N.Y.) Air Branch at the former Air Force base.
CBP has informed agents it would reduce the force over the next three to five years to two aircraft and five agents.
The base provides air cover for the U.S. – Canadian border from Watertown, N.Y., to Maine, including all of Vermont and New Hampshire.
CBP also performs surveillance and air support for state and local law enforcement and other federal agencies.
David Carle, a spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said CBP is transitioning from an offensive posture with frequent fly-overs at the northern border to a tactical approach in which aircraft are used to support ongoing investigations.
According to Carle, CBP will still provide aircraft to assist law enforcement agencies in Vermont.
CPB agents stationed in Plattsburgh were sent an e-mail last week instructing them to choose where on the southwest border they would like to relocate, according to one agent, who asked not to be named.
Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., asked the Department of Homeland Security for an explanation.
After meeting with Maj. Gen. Roger Ailes, CBP’s assistant commissioner for air and marine operations, Owens announced five agents would be relocated to the southwest border by the end of the year. Three have volunteered for transfer. If two others do not come forward, two agents will be issued orders forcing them to either relocate or lose their jobs, Owens said.
CBP intends to continue the force reductions over the next three years, Owens added.
According to a statement from U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the CBP agents at the Plattsburgh Air Base were responsible for apprehending 18 people who crossed the border illegally last year and capturing 1,500 pounds of marijuana.
For its part, CPB has noted the cost of maintaining aircraft has increased by 5.4 percent each year, and it is looking to reduce costs.