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
February 28th, 2002
Helen Armstrong Stop
Stop the Choppers is a volunteer citizens' group with members across Toronto. Today I will respond to Chief Julian Fantino's Review of the City Auditor's Evaluation of the Air Support Unit Pilot Project.
Helicopters Do Not Reduce Crime - City Auditor
I must first stress that the Auditor's study found that police helicopters did not reduce crime in Toronto. This finding has been echoed by other North American studies. Recently, Professor Paul Whitehead's study of helicopters for the London, Ontario police force found helicopters did not suppress crime rates. The London City Council heeded this report and did not introduce police helicopters.
Helicopter Does Not Attend Most High Priority Calls
The Chief states "It is an established fact that helicopters contribute to increased efficiency and effectiveness in policing operations." However, when asked to study these very issues, the Auditor reached no such conclusions. The Auditor's report shows that the police helicopter log reveals almost three quarters of the 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 report says the helicopter attended less than one per cent of high priority calls. The "increased efficiency and effectiveness in policing operations" mentioned by the Chief is subjective, not an "established fact", and does not stand up to careful scrutiny.
Police Helicopters Cause Serious Noise Problems
Noise doubles every ten years in Toronto. Police helicopter noise would add substantially to this noise burden. A Toronto Board of Health Noise and Health report points out that nighttime noise leads to health risks due to disturbances in the sleep stage. Police helicopters could cause more social problems due to stress-induced physical and mental health problems.
To address noise complaints, the Chief offers a "quieter" helicopter, possibly the Eurocopter model, used in Edmonton. These models are much more expensive. Will the City of Toronto find the millions of dollars to purchase this so-called quieter model in its dwindling budget?
We appreciate that the Chief is taking our noise concerns seriously, but no matter which model used, helicopter noise will always be intrusive. Kathryn Ashbury's study, commissioned by the Toronto Police Services Board, confirms this point. She found that "Helicopters have a unique noise "footprint" consisting of a set of rotor's pulsating slaps plus a low frequency noise component that can induce vibrations and rattles in houses and other structures. The distinctive noise and vibrations of helicopters are perceived by the public to be twice as noisy as fixed-wing airplane noise."
Part of the helicopter's work is done while hovering low for long time periods. This intrusion causes great distress to residents due to its closeness. A U.S. Natural Resources Defence Council study found that helicopters hovering over residential neighbourhoods pose a health hazard.
We are told that Edmonton has had a mere four noise complaints since its helicopter program began in August 2001. This number begs more investigation. How often does the Edmonton helicopter fly? How easy is it for residents to complain? Who compiles the data? Also, Edmonton is a low-density community, thus the helicopter's presence would be much less intrusive than in Toronto's high-density neighbourhoods.
During Toronto's six-month pilot program there were more than 300 complaints to a City hotline. Residents had to expend extra effort to locate this phone number. Police received almost 200 complaints. It must be stressed that complaining about police work is very difficult for most people, as citizens want to believe that all police work is in our best interests. Many people who would like to complain about police helicopter noise thus remain silent.
The Chief says Toronto can purchase just one helicopter. However, the one unit operating during the pilot project managed to cause daily noise problems for many residents. Once Toronto accepts one helicopter we will open the door to more until there is a fleet of noisy helicopters disrupting neighbourhoods across the GTA.
Fly Neighbourly Policy Offers No Comfort
Our organization takes no comfort in the Chief's reassurances that the helicopter unit would "observe the 'Fly Neighbourly Policy'". This policy encourages pilots to "Follow major thoroughfares or railway roadbeds" and to "Avoid flying directly over hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other highly noise-sensitive facilities." Why are Toronto's quiet residential neighbourhoods not deemed noise-sensitive areas? All citizens have the right to sleep without unwanted noise - not just those residing in nursing homes and hospitals. It is unwise police policy to deem the sleep needs of the average Toronto resident as less important. Would you have people falling asleep on the job while operating power tools, or on the highway, due to exhaustion from helicopter-induced sleep disruption?
Furthermore, the police did not heed the Fly Neighbourly Policy during the pilot project, as we heard reports from many residents who were kept awake often by the police helicopter which did not focus on major thoroughfares.
Police Helicopters Useless in September 11th Attacks
Police dollars, especially in the wake of September 11th, would be better used to put more officers on the streets, working together with our communities. Police helicopters were of no use in the New York City disaster, despite an entire fleet being on hand. Not one life was saved through helicopter deployment.
We Can Borrow Helicopters As Needed
Toronto's crime rate is at a 20-year low. We can 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.
“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.