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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


Toronto Star: Nov. 15, 02:13 EDT Chopper no crime stopper

Police could work as well without helicopter: Audit
Brian McAndrew
Environment Reporter

A Toronto police helicopter did nothing to deter crime during a $1 million pilot project, concludes a city auditor's report obtained by The Star.

`I had the helicopter hovering over my house twice late at night. It was not any fun. I didn't feel any more secure.'

- John Sewell Former Toronto mayor and member of Stop the Chopper citizens' group

But most members of the public who support a helicopter patrolling the city's skies believe that's what it does best, according to an opinion poll included in the report.

An Environics Research poll conducted for city auditors last January in the final month of the pilot project found 87 per cent of the 1,001 Toronto adults questioned favoured police helicopters.

They said they believed a helicopter service worked best at preventing crimes and in the pursuit of vehicles. The report found the helicopter did neither very well.

And while police officers said the helicopter made them feel more secure in their work, they told the auditors that in most investigations they could have done the job just as well without the assistance of the chopper with its heat sensor equipment and powerful spotlight.

The six-month pilot project was funded mostly by private donors. The report questioned whether a permanent sky patrol was worth the money.

"It was not possible to determine if the benefits provided by the helicopter outweighed its costs," said the report that will be presented today to the Toronto police services board.

The report found it would cost about $2.5 million annually for a fully equipped helicopter that included surveillance and monitoring cameras, infrared devices to locate people or objects by heat imaging, a 30 million-candlepower searchlight, and crew. The city would need more than one for an effective patrol, the report said.

The police department with 100 fewer officers than it had 15 years ago could hire an additional 25 officers for the same cost as one helicopter, the auditor's department calculated.

Helicopter noise was an environmental problem that must be considered before putting helicopters into permanent service, the report said, noting police received 398 noise complaints during the pilot project.

"I had the helicopter hovering over my house twice late at night," former city mayor John Sewell said yesterday. "It was not any fun. I didn't feel any more secure."

Sewell and Bloor West Village resident Helen Armstrong, head of Stop the Chopper citizens' group, will appear before the police board to oppose helicopter patrols.

"They are putting too much faith in technology to solve their crime problems rather than increasing community policing," Armstrong said.

Although the auditor's report refrained from taking sides, Armstrong believed it was weighted in favour of police helicopters.

"The auditor is sympathetic to the police view that it makes them feel more secure," she said. "They have marginalized the issue of noise. They say it's a very small problem."

The report points out the number of noise complaints were low for a city of more than 2 million residents.

The helicopter was an efficient addition to search and rescue operations, responded quickly to emergency calls and helped officers on the ground with crowd control and in making arrests for break-ins, vandalism and stolen vehicles, the report said.

Two helicopters were used in the pilot project averaging about eight hours of patrol each day. They responded to 789 calls, used the infrared sensor on nearly all of them and the searchlight more than 300 times There were 155 arrests made during 110 events with the helicopter assisting police on the ground.

Police officers told audit officials, however, that in most cases they did not need the helicopter's help although they liked having it around.

The audit took an in-depth look at 190 cases that included interviews with ground officers who investigated a range of offences from robberies, murder and assaults to prowlers, street fights and gun possessions. In 134 cases (70 per cent), police said they would have achieved the same results, including arrests, without the helicopter's assistance.

"In other words, the helicopter may have contributed to a sense of officer safety, but did not have a direct impact on the ultimate outcome of the event," the report said.

Still, police board chair Norm Gardiner remains a big advocate. "You get a lot of bang for the dollars you invest in a helicopter service."

Gardner expects the board will pass the report along to the city's policy and finance committee with the goal of getting the chopper patrol included in next year's police budget.

Most of the calls - 250 of the 789 - for helicopter assistance came from police in Scarborough's 41 and 42 divisions.

The helicopter patrol service would be separate from a $10 million helicopter that would be used by all emergency services requested in Mayor Mel Lastman's recent $60 million anti-terrorism proposal with costs split among the city, provincial and federal governments.

The Environics poll has an accuracy of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 95 times out of 100.

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.