Saskatchewan

Regina police bid for plane purchase could be 'game changer': Saskatoon police

The Regina Police Service included the funds for purchasing a plane in their 2022 budget, which is being sent to Regina city councillors for approval.

Funds for aircraft purchase included in budget proposal being sent to councillors for approval

Saskatoon Police Service's plane, a Cessna 182 model, is part of their air support unit, which has been in service since the mid-2000's. (Saskatoon Police Service)

The Regina Police Service is asking for the City of Regina to support its 2022 budget, including funding an aircraft for their own aerial support team. A Saskatoon police sergeant that works with the Saskatoon's air team wholeheartedly endorses the idea.

A capital budget proposal earmarks $547,500 — or about 10 per cent of the $5,139,000 outlined in the capital budget for 2022 — for emergency services equipment, which includes the "purchase of an aircraft for the aerial support unit."

The proposal doesn't state how much of that would go directly toward the aircraft. The Regina Police Service was not available for an interview regarding the request and did not provide more details before publication. 

The budget also includes up to $120,000 in Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) funding for plane equipment — like mapping or thermal imaging — as long as the police service buys the plane.

 "It's our expectation that this would aid police efforts to reduce dangerous driving behaviours, auto collisions and resulting injuries and deaths," Tyler McMurchy, SGI media relations manager, said in an email.

The Regina police proposal follows in the footsteps of the Saskatoon Police Service, which established its own air support unit as a pilot project in 2005 and have kept it since. They also received funding from SGI — a one-time amount of $300,000 in 2008. 

Dan Kerslake brings us a report about the police patrol plane in Saskatoon. One resident says the noise is a nuisance. The police say it's a sign that it's keeping the population safe.

"The citizens of Regina will see a dramatic increase in public safety — maybe one of the biggest cost-benefit analysis things the Regina Police can do right now for public safety," said Wade Bourassa, a sergeant with the air support unit of the Saskatoon Police Service.

"It will be an absolute game changer in Regina."

Bourassa said the plane can respond to calls in Saskatoon in about 10 seconds, drastically increasing arrests and community safety as distinct as "day and night." He provided several anecdotes stories of successful searches for lost and confused children and elderly people, or successful arrests. 

Last year, it spent 1,115 hours in the air, responding to 1,941 calls and was given credit for 251 arrests. Bourassa said some of those hours include training and surveillance and aren't always making arrests. 

The aircraft operating expense in Saskatoon is roughly $260,000 annually, Bourassa said.

'How can you put a price on safety'

Rick Ruddell, a justice studies professor at the University of Regina and chair in police studies with the Saskatchewan law foundation, said he's not sure of a cost-benefit analysis on the plane, but said it's advantageous to policing and public safety.

He corroborated much of what Bourassa had said: it makes police pursuits safer, increases efficiency and is safer for citizens.

In response to concerns about the dollars spent on police budgets, Ruddell said he can understand public apprehension to newer equipment. Higher budgets can mean higher taxes, "but this seems to be a piece of equipment that seems to have a return on investment," he said.

Bourassa suggests that the plane saves resources and therefore saves money, paying "for itself every single year, time and time and time again."

By reducing accidents it saves money on insurance; by focusing police response it reduces the amount of necessary resources; and it solidifies court cases with real-time footage of criminal behaviour to expedite court cases. 

Budgeting for the roots of crime

But it doesn't address crime at its roots, where money can be better spent, argues Aria Ramdeo, executive director of the Heritage Community Association.

The community association's neighbourhood spans south of Dewdney Avenue to College avenue and about a dozen blocks east of Broad Street. Its mandate, as posted on its website, is to provide "needs-based programs, services, and support to help create a healthy community environment."

Ramdeo's suggestion — that funding should be diverted to addressing social issues like homelessness and poverty — is in tune with many arguments to defund the police. Those calls, heard most loudly in mid-2020, have asked for money to be directed to addressing social issues and having health experts and social workers included in calls.

Ramdeo said that she understands police may need increased funding, but community organizations on the ground see other uses for it — namely food security and housing.

"We have to consider all of these things when we look where at this money is going to be redistributed," she said.

"If we don't address the imminent needs of our population, then our crime is going to be higher. So, where does that funding need to go?"

The Regina Police Service budget is set to be considered by city council on Dec. 15.

With files from Janani Whitfield

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