The Manitoba government confirms that a review is in the works for Air1, the Winnipeg Police Service helicopter, but says the review is not meant to ground the chopper program.
Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh says starting next week, the government will seek proposals for agencies to conduct an outside review of the Air1 program, which receives provincial as well as city funding.
"We've been investing about $1.5 million in the operations of the helicopter and we've heard some very good things about its impact," Mackintosh told CBC News on Friday afternoon.
"It's always important to have an outside look at the operation and make sure that it's doing the best it can do. So there may be some changes that are recommended, in which case we'll have that discussion with the City of Winnipeg."
Mackintosh said he anticipates the review will take place over the course of a year.
Announcement coming soon, says police chief
Earlier on Friday, following a meeting of the Winnipeg Police Board, police Chief Devon Clunis would only say the Air1 program is "being looked at."
Expect an announcement in the next couple of weeks regarding the aerial unit, Clunis added.
The city's various departments are all reviewing their expenses in the lead-up to this year's budget, which will be voted on by council in March.
Air1 has been a target of criticism since it was first brought into operation in 2011, with those opposed to it saying the money would be better spent on putting more officers on the streets.
But those who support it say the chopper is invaluable because it is often first on a scene and can use infrared cameras to detect suspects who are hiding. It also can follow suspects in vehicles, saving ground units the need to engage in a dangerous high-speed pursuit.
- Police helicopter worth taxpayer dollars, Brian Bowman says
- 'Militarizing police': Winnipeg buys $343K armoured vehicle for officers
- Winnipeg police officers in X-rated chopper talk incident won't be disciplined
The city paid $3.5 million to purchase the helicopter and the province kicks in $1.3 million for annual operating costs.
The Air1 mandate includes:
- Response to crimes in progress for aerial containment and investigation.
- Infrared searches for suspects and evidence, and co-ordination of ground response.
- Tracking and surveillance of suspect vehicles during police pursuits.
- Illumination of crime scenes, collision scenes, vehicle stops, search areas, disturbances and foot pursuits.
- Aerial searches for missing or lost people.
- Aerial reconnaissance and photography or videotaping of crime scenes, traffic collisions, high-risk incidents or remote areas.
- Infrared scans to provide evidence of illegal grow operations relating to drug investigations.
Mackintosh said the province is satisfied with how Air1 has been doing so far.
"We think this is a very important investment … and we intend fully to continue that investment and just make sure that it's working to the best possible efficiency levels that can be attained," he said.