Police helicopter program may be grounded

There will be no more police helicopters speeding over the city to crime scenes in a few years if council decides not to fund a replacement chopper.

Council balks at funding new chopper

Edmonton Police currently operate two single-engine helicopters: Air-1 and Air-2. Council doesn't want to spend the $7 million to replace the ageing choppers. (CBC )

There will be no more police helicopters speeding over the city to crime scenes in a few years if council decides not to fund a replacement chopper. 

Police are asking for $7 million for a new twin-engine helicopter, to replace its aging single-engine choppers.

“It sounds like there’s zero appetite on our council to buy a military grade E135 twin-engine helicopter,” Mayor Don Iveson said.

Coun. Andrew Knack asked his colleagues Thursday to reject the request. The choppers are only used about 15 per cent of the time due to to maintenance and weather conditions, he said.

“When it is (used), it does a phenomenal job and it’s extremely valuable," Knack said. "I just don’t think it’s able to be extremely valuable enough to justify having  another one."

He would like to see the money spent on more ground patrols, and crime prevention.

Police Chief Rod Knecht said Air 1 and Air 2, the existing helicopters, will expire by 2019.

“I would hate to see Edmontonians lose the helicopter program, because I think it is so valuable for public safety,” he said.

Knecht said the helicopters save lives, and make it possible for police to catch high-risk criminals in a way ground officers could not.

Coun. Dave Loken proposed council fund one or two single-engine choppers at a reduced cost of $4 million each.

“In a city that’s growing as much as we are, it’s a tool that’s necessary,” Loken said.  “Some councillors don’t see it that way, they’re purely looking at the cost I guess.”

The single engine choppers need a runway to take off, so they must be kept at the Villeneuve Airport or the Edmonton International Airport, which leads to slower response times.

The chief initially asked for the twin engine as it can take off vertically so can be stored closer to the city core.

“It’s the Cadillac option, and I told the chief this is not a Cadillac budget,” Iveson said.   

The money for the helicopter will be debated as part of the budget deliberations. Council could vote on the fate of the helicopter program as early as Monday, Iveson said.


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