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The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors today approved a request by the sheriff’s office to purchase a $700,000 airplane using money seized during criminal investigations. The agency plans to buy a single-engine 2012 Cessna 206, which will replace an aging 1980 Cessna 206, an outdated model that has become too noisy for suburban, semi-rural surveillance, according to the sheriff’s office. The total cost of the new airplane is $682,731 for the plane, plus $31,013 in add-ons such as communications equipment and high-resolution cameras.

The plane will primarily be used by the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force for surveillance operations in drug cases, though the aircraft will be made available to any regional law enforcement agency in need of an aerial resource, according to the sheriff’s office. Besides having been proven to be a valuable asset for law enforcement, the sheriff’s plane is also a “priceless resource” when used in search-and-rescue operations, the sheriff’s office said in a letter to the board. Between July 2010 and June 2011, the sheriff’s current aircraft was used in 158 operations.

Any purchases made by law enforcement agencies with money seized during criminal investigations need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. The department’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section called the purchase of the new airplane a “permissible expenditure,” according to the sheriff’s office.

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