The Winnipeg Police Service wants to replace a key system on the Air1 helicopter — at the same time the province is reviewing whether the chopper is needed in the first place. 

The police say the thermal imaging system on the aircraft has been repaired several times and needs to be replaced.

According to Air1's annual flight reports, the helicopter is currently equipped with a stabilized camera that can track people using heat signatures.

The equipment is critical to finding suspects on the ground during pursuits. 


Patrol Sergeant Rob Duttchen says it is worth replacing the thermal imaging system on Winnipeg's Air1 because the helicopter will be worth more with a functioning camera than without. (CBC)

Winnipeg Police Patrol Sgt. Rob Duttchen said on Wednesday the equipment has come to the end of its life cycle.

"After five years of use and ... over 4,000 almost 5,000 hours of operational deployment for the camera, it just has worn itself out," Duttchen said.

A City of Winnipeg report to the finance committee notes it has set aside its share for a new $360,000 thermal imaging system.

The purchase, according to the finance documents, would require a 50/50 funding split between the city and the province. 

A spokesperson for the province wasn't able to confirm whether a request for the funding had been received. The spokesperson did say it "is possible the request has been made, but hasn't been located."

Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh told reporters in early January the province would conduct a review of the Air1 program.

"It's always important to have an outside look at the operation and make sure that it's doing the best it can do," Makintosh said at the time.

Under an agreement, the provincial government pays for the operations of the helicopter. In 2014, the province paid $1,752,514.89.

Equipment needed-despite provincial review

Police board chair Scott Gillingham admitted the timing of the purchase is awkward.

Police Board chair Scott Gillingham

Police board chair Scott Gillingham admits the timing is awkward but equipment needs replacing. (CBC News)

"For the helicopter to fulfil its operational capacity, this item is needed, yet yes, the province has announced a review, but you would have to speak to the province and the police service about the unfortunate timing and how that may be handled," Gillingham said.

In an emailed statement, WPS Superintendent Bruce Ormiston explained the reason for the replacement. 

"The Winnipeg Police Service is aware that the replacement of this equipment is occurring in the same year that the operational review of Air1 is being conducted.  The service believes the review could take up to a year, and since [the imaging system] is reaching the end of its life cycle, a replacement is needed to maintain the operational abilities of Air1."

Patrol Sgt. Rob Duttchen added the Air1 is worth more with a functioning imaging system on board than without, so even if the review recommends selling the helicopter, there's value in replacing the component.

Request followed proper channels

Gillingham said the board was recently briefed by the police service of the need for the new thermal imaging equipment.

"The chief has operational decisions that he makes for the service. I'm glad that it came before us though," Gillingham said.

The purchase of a $342,800 armoured personnel vehicle in late 2015 caught members of the police board off-guard. The police service bought the armoured vehicle with funds it secured within its own budget and notified the police board afterward.

New rules for the procurement of equipment over $100,000 were later agreed to by the board and Chief Devon Clunis.

Gillingham believes concerns over the armoured car purchase may have prompted police executives to inform the board of the need to replace the expensive equipment.

Air One needs new imaging system

The Winnipeg Police Service is requesting $360,000 to replace a thermal imaging system in its helicopter. (CBC News)

"I'd like to think that that's one of the reasons why they came to us early and the board appreciates that — now it's going to finance committee as part of the commitment reserve," Gillingham said.

The city's commitment reserve fund allows departments to carry forward operating budget dollars that have been earmarked for specific purchases or programs to the preceding fiscal year, eliminating the need to re-budget. 

Gillingham called the accounting "completely transparent" and noted it is conditional on provincial funding.

The Winnipeg Police Service added it is in discussions with the province with regards to the replacement of this equipment.