Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Whirlybird Hoopla from the WPS

I guess this falls under the category of other interesting things I want to blog about.

With the announcement this week that the Manitoba government will help find a way to make a police helicopter a reality for Winnipeg, I can't help but get annoyed by all the whirlybird hoopla.

When I picture police helicopters, I think of my favourite original reality show, COPS, on FOX. Some poor bugger does something stupid and the next thing you know the police are chasing him with the COPS camera man bracing in the passenger seat as the police car goes barreling down the road. Aformentioned poor bugger then abandons his vehicle and becomes the target of an intense foot chase through backyards as dogs bark and the camera man huffs and puffs to keep up. Soon a bright light appears in the sky, and just when you think that FOX is adding an alien element to the show, the police helicopter appears and shines the spotlight on the dude who is now likely being tasered by an officer. High fives all around, another bad guy is off the streets.

Let me get this out of the way. I think there are better ways to spend money on policing in Winnipeg. More specialized officers (Street Crime, Arson Strikeforce, etc.) on the street. More money for immobilizers. Maybe a strategy that will help kids instead of leaving them at the mercy of the system. Another shift of Tactical Team members. More general patrol officers. But a helicopter?

I'm no expert on policing; I'm just another guy with a blog who has an opinion. So if the Chief of Police thinks we need the helicopter, well I guess I should want to believe him. After all, he should know the needs of the WPS better than anyone else. But I am also a taxpayer and this whole issue seems like it could be made into something much more useful.

I keep hearing media reports that the helicopter will be a useful tool in reducing high speed pursuits of stolen vehicles. How? Are we putting police snipers on board who will shoot out the tires of the stolen vehicle from the air before the chase gets out of hand? What happens if the high speed pursuit takes place when the helicopter is on the ground being refuelled or because the pilot needs a break? What if the call is made about a pursuit starting, but the helicopter is on the ground and by time it is scrambled into the air the pursuit is over?

What else will this helicopter do? Can it airlift trauma victims? Move the Tactical Team across the city at a far faster rate than their SUVs do with the emergency lights activated? Winnipeg is spread out but it doesn't take that long to move across the city, especially if you are able to go through red lights at a higher rate of speed than the average motorist.

I think this is a serious question that needs to be debated and shared with the city because it represents a signficant investment in one resource that could be better spread across many areas.

Here is one suggestion. If a helicopter is the 'sexy' tool that everyone is talking about, why don't we look at getting helicopters that offer lifeflight capabilities and spread the whirlybird love to more people around the province, instead of just Winnipeg? You know, so we can move remote trauma victims from car crashes and other life threatening events into the city quickly and get them to the Health Sciences Centre. Build a helicopter landing pad on the roof of HSC so the helicopter can go straight there and maybe save someone's life.

Forget about putting all these resources into a toy that will make a good photo op until it doesn't make it to the scene of a big chase in time and the politicians/media/etc. go bonkers about how this thing isn't doing what it promised it would. Whatever that promise was.

Or maybe, just maybe a police helicopter will elevate Winnipeg's status into that of a 'big city' ... you know like those cities we see on COPS.

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