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police helicopter crash

This twin-engine police helicopter experienced “tail rotor failure in the hover whilst observing the scene below” in the Whitchurch neighbourhood of Cardiff, South Wales, in April 2000. official report


Deputation to Toronto Police Services Board
Re: Evaluation of the Air Support Unit Pilot Project, Toronto Police Services
Submitted by Helen Armstrong, Coordinator, Stop the Choppers
November 15, 2001                                              Email: helena@web.ca

Stop the Choppers is a volunteer citizens’ group with members across Toronto.

The Auditor’s report clearly shows that the pilot project did not result in the benefits that had been hoped for. Helicopter proponents and the media focused on vehicle pursuits as an anticipated benefit. But the Auditor concludes “there is no evidence to suggest, based on the six-month pilot project, that the helicopter is effective in regard to vehicle pursuits.”

The Auditor points out that crime did not go down in Toronto during the six-month project. If helicopters do not reduce crime, what use are they?

Officer safety is mentioned repeatedly by the Auditor. To truly enhance officer safety, Toronto must seriously invest in further developing a healthy, livable city. The Auditor’s commissioned Environics poll reveals that a vast majority of people do not want the City’s dwindling resources spent on police helicopters.

Until recently the Toronto Police had a stated commitment to community policing. The police helicopter is in direct opposition to this commitment, as it removes officers from neighbourhoods and increases tensions between police and vulnerable communities though unwanted military-style surveillance. Where is the proof that this expensive technology will make us all safer? Community policing would provide officers with more safety as they build relationships with residents that are based on trust rather than suspicion. This policing would enact the Toronto Police motto “working with the community”.

Noise doubles every ten years in Toronto and other urban areas, according to current research. Helicopter noise would add substantially to this growing noise burden. Many studies link noise with health problems. A recent Natural Resources Defence Council study from the U.S. found that helicopters hovering over residential areas pose a health hazard. Police helicopters cause new social problems, often because of noise and its related physical and mental health effects. A Toronto Board of Health Noise and Health report points out that nocturnal noise has been indicated as a health risk because of the disturbance to the distribution of sleep stages. The helicopter makes many people very fearful, especially refugees from war-torn countries where helicopters are deployed to terrorize and kill people. Many people have spoken to us at length about how the helicopter made them feel they were living in a war zone.

The Auditor does acknowledge that the helicopter has been seen as “noisy, intrusive, frightening and expensive”, and that U.S. police services report noise as a problem with their helicopter programs, and says that noise issues must be addressed. Yet noise concerns are minimized in the report. We are instead offered a list of recommendations that encourages the procurement of helicopters for Toronto Police.

The police helicopter log reveals that 71 per cent of calls the helicopter took part in would have had the same results without the helicopter present. These results reveal that the helicopter was not necessary in most situations in which it was used. The Auditor also points out that the helicopter attended a mere 0.6 per cent of high priority calls.

In citing the calls from the public received by their office, the Auditor marginalizes those who complained about helicopter noise as “certain residents”. Most citizens will not take steps to complain as they feel powerless, or worried their complaints about police work won’t be taken seriously. Complaint calls to the police hotline were also not high for the above reasons.

The Auditor’s graph shows that positive response to the helicopter was high in the first month of the project, when media enthusiasm for the helicopters – complete with front page photos of the mayor and others riding in the helicopter – was high. The trend reversed steadily throughout the project. In the sixth and final month the response to the helicopter was overwhelmingly negative. Residents thus did not become acclimatized to the helicopter; rather they experienced increasing distress as the project continued.

Our organization insists that the Toronto Police not be given approval to seek private funding for helicopters. Soliciting private funding for policing has dangerous implications for public policy, as the Auditor points out.

Police helicopters would impose staggering costs on Toronto residents in terms of ongoing noise, loss of quality of life, noise-related physical and mental health problems, expensive helicopter maintenance and payment for extra police personnel. Toronto can instead adopt the socially and fiscally prudent approach of Canada’s other two largest cities, Montreal and Vancouver, and use helicopters from the RCMP, OPP or Canadian military as needed.

Stop the Choppers hopes the members of the Toronto Police Services Board will seriously evaluate the issue of police helicopters and adopt a more community based approach to policing that would enhance officer and public safety, and help preserve peace and quiet in Toronto.

The police helicopter seems designed as an in-your-face sign of intimidation.” John Sewell, Eye

A police helicopter in Nassau County,
New York demonstrating a low altitude pursuit.