City agrees to cover remaining cost of new police helicopter camera

Winnipeg's police helicopter is getting a new infrared camera for its helicopter, after all.

Pallister government had rejected a request to top up contribution for new thermal imaging system

The Winnipeg Police Service hope to replace the thermal imaging system on its helicopter at a cost of $580,000. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Winnipeg's police helicopter is getting a new infrared camera for its helicopter, after all.

In a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, the Winnipeg Police Board agreed to contribute another $100,000 toward the $560,000 purchase of a new thermal imaging system for Air1, the Winnipeg Police Service's helicopter.

The camera can track people using heat signatures and is used to locate suspects on the ground during pursuits. In February, the police said they need to replace an aging, refurbished camera that's at the end of its useful life.

The police board initially expected a new thermal imaging system to cost $360,000 and the city and province agreed to split the tab. 

Since then, the cost of the new camera rose to $560,000, prompting the police to request additional funds from the province.The Pallister government, which is reviewing a wide range of funding commitments, refused to fork over the additional cash.

Amy McGuinness, a spokeswoman for Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson, said the province approved a $180,000 criminal forfeiture grant in February to cover what was then believed to be half the cost of the new camera.

"This capital expenditure was outside of the funding arrangement in which Manitoba pays 100 per cent of the cost of the unit's six police officers, two civilian pilots, as well as the maintenance, fuels, hangar and office rental costs," McGuinness said in a statement on Tuesday.

"A request for an additional $100,000  grant from the province, after the cost to acquire the (infrared camera) increased" has been denied, she said.

On Wednesday, the police board agreed to cover the remainder of the purchase, said chairman Scott Gillingham, the city councillor for St. James-Brooklands.

Gillingham said he understood the province's position, given that the terms of the funding deal for the helicopter call for the province to pay for operations, not equipment.

The purchase comes as the province is supposed to be reviewing whether the police helicopter is needed in the first place. The former Selinger government promised an operational review of Air1 but that review is not yet underway, despite the fact the province has issued a tender, McGuinness said.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said while he is awaiting the results of the review, he believes the helicopter is beneficial for the police service.

"I've had the opportunity to go up in the helicopter and I've seen the benefits of it," Bowman said on Tuesday.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.