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Chopper process puzzles

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The helicopter debate gets a bit more interesting....

I had quite a bit of reaction to a column on the city's plans to buy a police helicopter. Simply put, there has been a complete lack of attention to process here. The city is committed to buying the copter, and finding the money, even though council has not voted to support the project or seen arguments from the Winnipeg Police Service about what a helicopter would do for public safety.

The debate over the police helicopter is expanding, and bringing in some people with real expertise on the subject. Former Deputy Police Chief Menno Zacharias has weighed in on the issue in a big way. Zacharias is author of the Police, Politics and Public Policy, a blog that deals with exactly what the title implies. His latest post is the third of three installments of an analysis of the police helicopter issue.

Parts I and II expressed a subtle skepticism about the project. Part III is an excellent break down of the issues that should be addressed in a highly anticipated report from Police Chief Keith McCaskill on the cost and benefits of a chopper. Zacharias notes that there should be a detailed breakdown the types of calls to be handled by the chopper, and "historic calls for service" data which would show how many of these kinds of calls actually occur in Winnipeg.

"Only once those numbers have been determined, can the cost per incident of helicopter usage be established," Zacharias writes. "It’s simple mathematics."

He also suggests there should be benefits analysis, which is more difficult to do. This would identify real or opportunity savings which do not necessarily mean dollars and cents. Opportunity savings refer to savings from "freeing up resources to do other things" because of the involvement of a helicopter.

Zacharias summarizes his argument succinctly:

"The following questions need to be answered by our politicians: Can the per incident cost of having a helicopter be justified? Are the opportunity savings real, and have they been presented in the form of evidence based outcomes that are measureable? Lastly, if the police service were given 1 to 1.5 million dollars of new money annually with the understanding it was to be applied to the most effective and most efficient means of preventing crime, reducing crime, and enhancing community safety, would they then use it to purchase a helicopter?"

Well said indeed.

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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