Winnipeg mayoral candidate Glen Murray promises to ground police helicopter
Former mayor says remotely-operated drones can conduct surveillance at a cheaper cost
Winnipeg mayoral candidate Glen Murray says he'd like to replace the city's police helicopter with less expensive surveillance drones.
Murray announced Monday evening if he's elected this fall, he would ground Air1, the Winnipeg Police Service's EC120B Colibri helicopter.
The city purchased the helicopter in 2010 for $3.5 million and now spends about $2.2 million a year keeping it in the air.
Murray said it's too expensive to operate and is now obsolete, given the improvements to remotely operated aerial drones.
"I think technology has advanced beyond that. I think this is really expensive. I think it's past its best-before date as a concept," Murray said in an interview on Monday evening.
"I think there's a lot better ways to spend public dollars than on a helicopter."
At $2.2 million, the helicopter's annual operating cost represents less than one per cent of the police service's $320-million budget.
According to the police's 2020 flight operations report, the most recent one made public, the helicopter attended 2,446 events, helped find 738 suspects or missing people, and took part in 101 vehicle pursuits that year.
The police also credited the helicopter with saving 13 lives in 2020. The flight operations unit prevented seven suicides and saved six people from a house fire, the report states.
Moe Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association — the union representing police officers — said he does not think Murray understands the benefits Air1 confers in terms of reduced pursuits and saved lives.
"I think he's hearing from a very small minority that want it trashed," Sabourin said via text.
Murray nonetheless said the money devoted to the helicopter could be better spent some other way.
"You have to find some saving somewhere and we have to shift our dollars to healthier, safer neighbourhoods," he said.
"For the cost of a couple of weeks of operating a helicopter, you could have a lot more deployed drones in a lot of vehicles."
Murray said he has not formed an opinion about the police's armoured rescue vehicle, a Terradyne Gurkha MPV it purchased for $383,000 in 2015.
In either case, Winnipeg's mayor does not have the power to direct police operations. Loose oversight of the police service falls to the Winnipeg Police Board.
Murray acknowledged that, stating he would advise the police board to eliminate the police helicopter.
Murray, who previously served as mayor from 1998 until 2004, is one 11 candidates registered to run for mayor this fall.
The other candidates are Idris Adelakun, Rana Bokhari, Chris Clacio, Scott Gillingham, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Shaun Loney, Jenny Motkaluk, Rick Shone, Desmond Thomas and Don Woodstock.
The civic election takes place on Oct. 26.