Manitoba

Police to review helicopter operations even after province loses interest

The Winnipeg Police Service is planning to review the use of its helicopter now that the province has cancelled plans for a review of its own.

Air1 is indispensable, but force needs to quantify return on investment, police say

The Winnipeg Police Service plans to review Air1's operations. The province, which has paid to keep the helicopter in the air, has signalled it will not provide the city with an annual operating increase for the aircraft. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

The Winnipeg Police Service is planning to review the use of its helicopter now that the province has cancelled plans for a review of its own.

Deputy Chief Gord Perrier said Monday the police plan to look at the use of the aircraft known as Air1 in more detail than it does in its annual reports of flight operations.

No such examination has taken place since the city purchased the helicopter in 2010. The province has covered the annual operating cost, which has risen from $1.2 million in 2011 to $1.9 million in 2016.

The former NDP government pledged to review the aircraft's operation, but the Progressive Conservative government cancelled that plan and then signaled instead it will not be providing the city with annual operating increases for any specific line item, including the police helicopter.

Deputy Chief Gord Perrier said a review remains necessary.

"We are in preliminary discussions of what would a review look like, whether that's conducted by an outside entity, whether it's an internal review, whether it's jointly with the city," Perrier said Monday following a media briefing at the Winnipeg police headquarters.

"We want to really explore in depth what's the return on investment," he said, adding the police need to now how the helicopter fits into police operations and "how the community feels about a use of equipment like that and how informed they are about the helicopter, its operations and its value to the community."

The Winnipeg Police Service is planning to review the use of its helicopter now that the province has cancelled plans for a review of its own. 1:49

On Monday, the city published a 2016 Air1 annual report that stated the helicopter flew fewer hours last year as a result of the defective infrared camera that was replaced in September.

The helicopter flew 733 hours in 2016, a drop of 27 per cent from 2015, according to the annual report. The aircraft was grounded for the entire month of August.

The RCMP loaned Winnipeg an infrared camera in September, which was installed on Air1 until a permanent new camera arrived in December.

That camera cost $560,000, with the province picking up $180,000 of the tab. Insp. John Lutz said he does not expect the helicopter to require significant upgrades for several years.

Lutz said the aircraft is indispensable to police operations and suggested its cost can't be assessed without looking at the way its use is integrated with police operations as a whole.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter 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. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.