Winnipeg police 'stunned' by concerns about use of helicopter in movie shoot
Air-1 spent 72 minutes at scene of Breaking Bad star's Manitoba-shot film
Winnipeg police have long facilitated the local film industry, says Const. Rob Carver, who says the use of a specialized surveillance helicopter in a movie shoot shouldn't come as a huge surprise.
"This is what any large city would do if you're trying to attract the film industry here, and we have been very successful, from my understanding, in doing that for a long time," Carver told a room of reporters Monday.
"It's simply beyond me why this is an issue."
On Friday, the force defended flying the $3.5-million Air-1 helicopter to La Salle, Man. in December to appear in the upcoming film, The Parts You Lose, starring Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul.
The total flight time for the shoot was 72 minutes and the helicopter — capable of travelling 380 kilometres an hour — could've been within Winnipeg city limits in "seconds" if needed, Carver said Monday.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman raised concerns on Sunday about the use of Air-1 for the purposes of a film.
"The police helicopter is a very specialized piece of equipment, the use of which should be limited to supporting police and public safety operations," a spokesperson for the mayor wrote in a statement Sunday. Bowman's office forwarded those concerns to Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth asking for clarification on how the decision was made.
Insp. John Lutz said he and WPS senior management made the decision. Lutz said for the purposes of the shoot — which did not require flying any passengers, shipping any cargo or hoisting anything — the use of the helicopter complied with commercial operation standards.
Police previously said the decision came after a request from the city's manager of film and special events. Carver repeated on Monday that Air-1's use was permitted on a strict cost-recovery basis, meaning in theory the force broke even on the shoot.
'Such a non-event'
Carver also said members of the force were "stunned" the use of the helicopter for a film production would be a contentious issue. He said he wasn't initially aware the helicopter was being used in the shoot when a reporter asked the question last week.
"I said, 'I am not aware of it, and actually I don't believe we're doing it. I'm pretty sure if we were doing it I'd have been advised,'" Carver recalled Monday.
"I was wrong. It was such a non-event that I didn't hear about it and I hear about just about everything."
In the past, police have closed down the Arlington Bridge and Public Safety Building for film-industry shoots. Public notices were issued in those cases due to possible traffic issues or barriers to accessing the PSB building, Carver said.
No such notice was sent to media this time because the nature of the deployment wasn't likely to cause any service or traffic disruptions, Carver said. He added that this was the first time Air-1 was used in a film.
"Other than the fact that this is Air-1, this is something that is done all the time," he said.
"Whether it's bridges or closing streets, or providing officers or cruiser cars, this is something that cities do that are trying to facilitate the film industry in that city, and Winnipeg has been very successful at that."
Carver said the force's special duty units attend a number of big events that extend outside of the film industry, including professional sports events, Canada Day festivities and high school graduations.
"We feel it's an important service, as do most police services," Carver said, adding rates are posted on the police website and no such commitments get in the way of regular police work.
Carver said if the force was contracting out Air-1 to make money, rather than on a cost-recovery basis, he imagines Winnipeg police would be grilled for misusing taxpayer-funded police resources.
"That was avoided and I think it was avoided very judiciously," he said. "We aren't in the business of renting out assets to make money ... that's not what we did."
The annual operating cost of the helicopter in 2016 was $1.9 million.