Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Officers' report touts benefits of helicopter

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THE benefits of buying a police helicopter "do not always equate to a measurable savings in dollars" because it's impossible to place a specific value on some improvements to public safety, the Winnipeg Police Service contends.

In a long-awaited report to city council's protec­tion and community services committee, two Win­nipeg police officers who conducted a six-month review of police helicopter use in other Canadian jurisdictions repeat previously disclosed assertions about the efficiencies that could flow from the pro­posed helicopter.

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Citing the work of University of Western Ontario sociology professor Paul Whitehead, Det.-Sgt. Dave Dalal and Const. Nick Paulet suggest a police heli­copter is not a means to an end, but a valuable tool in and of itself.

"Dr. Whitehead concluded that while there was no hard data to conclude that helicopter use 'suppressed' rates of crime, there was evidence of increased ef­ficiency and effectiveness when the helicopter was involved," the officers wrote.

The 12-page report says the $3.5-million startup cost and $1.3-million annual operating cost of the po­lice helicopter program are based on constructing a hangar for the aircraft, rather than leasing a space. The report says the helicopter would be in service 80 hours per week and in the air about 20 hours per week.

The chopper will be able to get anywhere in the city within four minutes, said the report, if it's based at Richardson International Airport.

"The Winnipeg Police Service has taken advantage of examining the costs from several other police helicopter operations so that the cost estimates will be very accurate (with the exception of the varying U.S. dollar and fuel rates)," the report said.

The report also states the helicopter should cut down on police costs by exposing police vehicles to less damage during pursuits and emergencies. In 2008, the Winnipeg Police Service sustained more than $400,000 in cruiser car damage.

In December, city council approved a police heli­copter as part of the 2010 capital budget, provided the province provides new money toward its annual operating costs.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has already said in his government's throne speech that the city and province will negotiate the helicopter's operating cost, but no formal agreement has been reached.

The police helicopter report will be presented to council's protection committee on Monday.

In December, the Free Press filed a request under freedom-of-information legislation to see any cost­benefit analyses or studies about the police heli­copter purchase. This week, the Winnipeg Police Service responded by stating two such documents exist -- but released them with all of the informa­tion blacked out.

The police cited several reasons why the informa­tion does not have to be made public. The main reason is that most of the information will be disclosed with­in the next two months, the police service contends.

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