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City of Edmonton debating whether it needs new police helicopter

Nov. 3, 2014, Edmonton - Edmonton police should receive $7.2 million next year to buy a new twin-engine helicopter, the city’s capital budget recommends.


November 3, 2014
By The Edmonton Journal

The chopper would cost almost five times more than the single-engine
aircraft it’s intended to replace, Air-1, which was bought in 2002 for
$1.7 million raised through a public lottery.

That machine, one of
Edmonton’s two police helicopters, was only expected to last for about
nine years, according to the 2015-18 capital budget documents.

“If
the (helicopter) program was curtailed or cancelled, an aerial
advantage would be lost that could not be replicated by more officers on
the ground,” says the budget, calling this an essential core service.

“The
ability to respond quickly, see in the dark and relay timely
information can only be delivered with the speed and technology that a
police helicopter delivers.”

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The remaining single-engine
helicopter should be replaced in 2019 with another twin-engine model,
which requires less downtime for maintenance, the documents say.

But
Coun. Scott McKeen, a member of the police commission, said Sunday he’d
like more focus on community policing and less on this type of
high-tech equipment.

“I think there is a bit of a policing-industrial complex,” he said.

“I
have so much regard for what our front-line officers do and how
difficult their job is, but I’m not convinced that increasingly
expensive and advanced armour and surveillance and weaponry is the
answer.”

The current fleet, based in Villeneuve Airport since the
City Centre Airport closed last year, annually costs about $1.9 million
to operate and flies a total of 1,900 hours.

Their main use is
managing police pursuits, but they also monitor suspicious activity and
help at disasters, fires and searches for missing people.

This boosts public and officer safety, and reduces lawsuits from accidents, the budget documents say.

However,
McKeen said the new machines will be noisier and many people don’t like
constant surveillance from “Big Brother in the sky.”

There might
be better ways to provide the same service, such as leasing helicopters
when they’re really needed or staffing more two-officer cars, he said.

“The
public has to be very vigilant, not about individuals, but about an
organization that out of reflex wants the best hardware to do its job,”
he said.

“I’m much more interested in human engagement.”

City
council will have its first discussion Tuesday about the $6-billion
capital budget, which guides spending on construction and major
equipment.


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