Winnipeg police will be patrolling the city from a Hummingbird come this fall.

An EC-120B Colibri, also known as a Hummingbird, has been selected as the helicopter that will serve the Winnipeg Police Service's (WPS) air patrol.

Calling the helicopter "a crime-fighting tool utilized in many other major urban centres," Manitoba Minister of Justice Andrew Swan and Mayor Sam Katz announced Friday that Eurocopter Canada Limited has been awarded the contract to provide the craft to the police service.

The new Flight Operations Unit should take to the skies by October, said police chief Keith McCaskill.

But if the chopper is outfitted and ready to go sooner, then it will be in the air sooner, he added.

A formal bidding process was followed once a funding agreement had been struck between the City of Winnipeg and provincial government.

In December, City Council voted to spend $3.5 million to purchase the helicopter. The province has agreed to provide $1.3 million a year in operating costs as well as about $25,000 in annual inflationary costs.

Swan said the province will also fund the cost of three additional officers required to staff the helicopter.

"The government of Manitoba is committed to investing in public safety," he said.

"This is an exciting day for the [police] service, added McCaskill. "The helicopter is going to be a vital part of our operations and will help us respond more quickly and safely to crime in our city."

The air-support operations provided by the helicopter will provide many benefits, according to a news release from the WPS:

  • Increased public safety.
  • Enhanced officer safety.
  • Faster response times.
  • Improved pursuit management and a reduction in the number of dangerous high-speed pursuits.
  • Greater apprehension rates involving police pursuits or suspects fleeing crime scenes.
  • Added deterrence and enforcement of traffic related issues (street racing, impaired driving).
  • Live aerial video feeds of incidents for commanders on the ground.
  • Improved support for missing person searches involving broad search areas and difficult terrain.
  • Fewer demands of on-the-ground resources by using aerial support to serve as a "force multiplier" (a tool that allows one officer to accomplish the work of many).
  • Greater police visibility in the community.

That will also save money because damage to marked cruiser cars cost the service more than $400,000 in 2008, McCaskill has said.

That damage is often caused when police are forced to engage suspects in high-speed pursuits.

The helicopter will be in service for about 80 hours a week and be equipped with a thermal imaging camera to track suspects from the air by their bodies give off, as well as a spotlight to illuminate areas from above to aid officers conducting searches on the ground.

The FLO will be staffed with a combination of police officers and civilian pilots. The aircraft maintenance will also be done by a civilian engineer or firm, according to the WPS.

The location for a hangar base has yet to be determined.