Edmonton police insist airplane is not secret — it's just not publicized

Edmonton's police chief and deputy chief answered media questions Thursday about the Cessna airplane the service has owned and operated since 1993.

Deputy chief says Cessna used to target ‘severe criminals’

A photo of the Edmonton police Cessna taken at the Villeneuve airport in 2016. (John Leicht)

Edmonton's deputy police chief says the airplane the service purchased in 1993 was never intended to be a secret.

"This plane hasn't been secret, but it hasn't been publicized for operational reasons," Deputy Chief Kevin Brezinski told the media following Thursday's monthly police commission meeting. 

"We use this plane to target some of the most severe criminals that we have in this city."

There is no mention of the Cessna aircraft on the Edmonton Police Service website, although the two helicopters owned by the service are featured prominently. 

The plane's existence was confirmed by police last November during a public city council committee meeting. By that time, the police commission had already approved the purchase of a $4.3-million replacement plane.

The replacement is supposed to be delivered late this year. The deputy chief says the replacement is currently in the process of being purchased. 

Brezinski justified the high price tag for the plane and its surveillance equipment as a long-term investment. 

"With this procurement, we went through the right process," Brezinski said. "We went through our police commission. Then in conjunction with the police commission, we did go to city council and we did discuss this in camera. 

Deputy Chief Kevin Brezinski addressing a 2018 meeting. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

"The reason that it's done in camera is that we're trying to protect some of our tools that we use to protect the public."

Brezinski did not say when the purchase was approved.  The deputy chief also refused to say how much the plane is flown, but he said it's used frequently.

"We have very sophisticated criminals in our city that we need to monitor. That's why the plane is used," Brezinski said. 

"It could be for drug trafficking, terrorism, homicide, sexual assault, those sort of offences."

Chief Dale McFee said he's concerned that it's become public information the plane is being stored at the Villeneuve airport. 

"You know, we're just trying to figure out what this actually means operationally for us to ensure that we limit the impact," McFee said. "The new airplane hasn't been delivered yet, so … do we have to change plans on how we do things?" 

'Edmonton is a bit of an exception here'

According to the Canadian Civil Aircraft Register, Edmonton is one of only a handful of Canadian municipalities with a police-owned airplane. The public records indicate that EPS is the only Canadian municipal police force to operate a plane and two helicopters.

Brezinski challenged that finding, but in an email exchange with CBC News, he would not be more specific. 

"I am sorry that I am not at liberty to provide information about other police agencies' operations," Brezinski wrote. "I know that other agencies have fixed-wing planes, but for obvious public safety reasons, I will not share that. 

"We were disappointed that the existence of our plane became public."

A Mount Royal University justice studies professor noted that the Calgary Police Service does not own an airplane. 

"Edmonton is a bit of an exception here," Doug King said. "There aren't that many police agencies in Canada that have airplanes and things like that. What are they doing with it that the Calgary Police Service doesn't see a need to do?" 

CBC News has confirmed that Alberta RCMP own and operate three fixed-wing airplanes and one helicopter. 

RCMP spokesperson Fraser Logan said the cost to operate and maintain its aircraft in the current fiscal year is $2.15 million. That number does not include staffing.

An Edmonton police spokesperson did not provide operation costs on its air fleet to CBC. 


Janice Johnston

Court and crime reporter

Janice Johnston was an investigative journalist with CBC Edmonton who covered Alberta courts and crime for more than three decades. She won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award in 2016 for her coverage of the trial of a 13-year-old Alberta boy who was acquitted of killing his abusive father.