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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


Helen Armstrong
Stop the Police Helicopters Group
Toronto, Ontario

Eric Greenspoon

Dr. Sheela Basrur
Medical Officer of Health
Toronto Public Health
277 Victoria Street, 5th Floor
Toronto, Ontario. M5B 1W2

December 13th, 2000

Dear Dr. Basrur,

The citizens in Stop the Police Helicopters Group and NoiseWatch applaud your efforts to tackle noise pollution in the City of Toronto. This year’s Noise and Health report gives us hope that urban noise can be tackled at the source.

We are writing to elicit your support in our efforts to tackle a pressing public health issue, that of the police helicopters in Toronto. As you know, this pilot project was begun on July 1st, 2000 and will end December 31st, 2000. During this six-month project many Toronto residents have been repeatedly woken in the middle of the night to the sound of one of the two noisy police helicopters hovering overhead. Along with these intrusive night events are many afternoon and evening disruptive fly overs as well as noisy hovering helicopters. This noise disturbs people’s enjoyment of their property, makes Toronto’s neighbourhoods much less liveable and creates stressful noise problems for people who want to enjoy public areas such as Toronto’s parks.

Stop the Police Helicopters Group and NoiseWatch urge you to report to City Council on the health effects of this new and very troubling source of noise. Given that we already have many unwanted sources of noise in the Toronto area and that noise pollution doubles every ten years, we see the adoption of permanent police helicopters as an unwanted extra burden of noise pollution in an already noisy city. A permanent fleet of police helicopters would also set a dangerous precedent as it would allow loud low frequency air noise at night. This decision could open the door to allowing more frequent flights of larger airplanes at night, which would further compound residents’ sleep deprivation and stress.
The Toronto Police are proposing up to five police helicopters to be in use for 21 or more hours a day, with NO night restrictions. Police leaders are lobbying Council heavily for these helicopters, with the full support of Mayor Mel Lastman. This is despite the fact that crime rates are at a 20 year low in Toronto, and a lack of hard evidence showing that helicopters reduce crime.

A report commissioned for the Toronto Police Services Board in 1997 revealed there is a “lack of good quality research on police helicopter operations”, a major obstacle in assessing their value. The report also points out there is “no compelling ‘results-based’ performance information to assist members of police service Boards and Command officers to assess the effectiveness of helicopters.” Police services typically measure the performance of their helicopter programs using ‘process-based’ indicators (such as activity, number and types of calls responded to, response time, and dollars spent) rather than ‘results-based’ indicators (i.e. what is achieved). Participants typically justify a helicopter on the basis of “how busy it is” - not in terms of impacts and quality of services provided or cost-effectiveness.

Our research shows that police helicopters cause new social problems, often because of noise and its related physical and mental health problems. As Toronto’s Noise and Health report points out, “nocturnal noise has been indicated as a health risk (Altena & Beersman, 1993) because of the disturbance to the distribution of sleep stages resulting in direct immunosuppressive effects (Thompson, 1996). The police helicopters have woken many Toronto residents after midnight, and have caused excessive stress and sleeplessness, especially when they hover over neighbourhoods.

Your report also notes the seriousness of low frequency noise, including “air movement machinery…because of its pervasiveness due to numerous sources” ( Berglund & Lindvall, 1995). Certainly many Toronto residents complain that they cannot tune out the helicopter noise because its low frequency and high decibels disturbs them at a time of night when other aircraft are not permitted to fly.

A report from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in the U.S. elaborates on the serious noise problems caused by helicopters and concludes that helicopters hovering over residential areas pose a health hazard: "Aircraft noise has been found to produce a number of adverse health effects, ranging from headaches, sleep disruption and hypertension to compromised cardiovascular and gastrointestinal functions," says the study, completed last December. "Limited but growing research and the experience of populations in heavily helicopter-impacted localities strongly indicate that helicopter noise ... can affect human health, well-being and learning ability," it said.

Given the overwhelming evidence that police helicopters are a hazard to the public’s health, and given the evidence that noise impacts on our health as spelled out in the Noise and Health report, we ask you to outline in your response what specific plans you have to tackle this serious and unnecessary source of noise pollution and oppressive surveillance.



Helen Armstrong
Stop the Police Helicopters Group

Eric Greenspoon

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.