Sunday, November 02, 2014

City of Edmonton budget: McKeen concerned about recommendation for new $7.2-million police helicopter

EDMONTON - Edmonton police should receive $7.2 million next year to buy a new twin-engine helicopter, the city’s capital budget recommends.

The chopper would cost almost five times more than the single-engine aircraft it’s intended to replace, Air-1, which was bought in 2002 for $1.7 million raised through a public lottery.

That machine, one of Edmonton’s two police helicopters, was only expected to last for about nine years, according to the 2015-18 capital budget documents.

“If the (helicopter) program was curtailed or cancelled, an aerial advantage would be lost that could not be replicated by more officers on the ground,” says the budget, calling this an essential core service.

“The ability to respond quickly, see in the dark and relay timely information can only be delivered with the speed and technology that a police helicopter delivers.”

The remaining single-engine helicopter should be replaced in 2019 with another twin-engine model, which requires less downtime for maintenance, the documents say.

But Coun. Scott McKeen, a member of the police commission, said Sunday he’d like more focus on community policing and less on this type of high-tech equipment.

“I think there is a bit of a policing-industrial complex,” he said.

“I have so much regard for what our front-line officers do and how difficult their job is, but I’m not convinced that increasingly expensive and advanced armour and surveillance and weaponry is the answer.”

The current fleet, based in Villeneuve Airport since the City Centre Airport closed last year, annually costs about $1.9 million to operate and flies a total of 1,900 hours.

Their main use is managing police pursuits, but they also monitor suspicious activity and help at disasters, fires and searches for missing people.

This boosts public and officer safety, and reduces lawsuits from accidents, the budget documents say.

However, McKeen said the new machines will be noisier and many people don’t like constant surveillance from “Big Brother in the sky.”

There might be better ways to provide the same service, such as leasing helicopters when they’re really needed or staffing more two-officer cars, he said.

“The public has to be very vigilant, not about individuals, but about an organization that out of reflex wants the best hardware to do its job,” he said.

“I’m much more interested in human engagement.”

City council will have its first discussion Tuesday about the $6-billion capital budget, which guides spending on construction and major equipment.

Story and comments:

Members of the public check out the Edmonton Police Service helicopter, Air-1, in Hawrelak Park during Emergency Preparedness Week in May 2013. Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.