This twin-engine police helicopter experienced “tail rotor failure in the hover whilst observing the scene below” in the Whitchurch neighbourhood of Cardiff, South Wales, in April 2000. official report
September 26, 2002 Deputation to:
Toronto Police Services Board
Toronto Police Service – Air Support Unit
Chief Fantino has failed to address important concerns regarding the proposed police–
helicopter program in his report to the Police Services Board.
The Board should instruct Chief Fantino to stop pursuing a patrol helicopter–
program for the Toronto Police.
Failure to address public concerns
Chief Fantino’s report of August 28 on the proposed police helicopter is notable for its very brief mention of certain serious public concerns and its omission of others. In contrast, the Chief dwells on extensive consultations that have been held within the Toronto Police and with other regional Forces. This imbalance indicates an inward-looking process that is unlikely to result in decisions that are good for the larger community.
The Board’s responsibility
But much of the responsibility for Chief Fantino’s perspective belongs in this room. The instructions given to him when the helicopter was last discussed in February encouraged him to see it only in terms of the inner workings of the police. We will only have responsible and responsive leadership if the Board engages with the Chief on the impacts of policing strategies on the larger community. There is more to policing than efficiently arresting suspects, which has seemed to be the Chief’s predominant concern throughout this unfortunate process.
The Board specifically instructed Chief Fantino to “explore...whether a quieter model of helicopter can be donated to the service.”
The Chief responds vaguely that noise will be considered among other criteria in evaluating potential equipment. This response indicates a shockingly low priority given to the impact on the community of this program. After the pilot project raised serious concerns about 24-hour noise, the suggestion to seek a quieter helicopter would seem to be a minimal request. But the Chief pays it only lip service. Even the quietest helicopter would shatter the peace of our communities on a regular basis. But as this was the only community concern even partially addressed by the Board, it is distressing to see it ignored.
With regard to costs, Chief Fantino is similarly brief and vague, offering a list of conceivable sources of private and public funding.
Private financing is inappropriate
But private financing of a police project is deeply problematic. How can we be sure that what Chief Fantino refers to as “entities interested in supporting this venture” will be treated the same as the rest of us by the police they are bankrolling? And how can we let wealthy “entities” buy influence on how our community is policed? If a proposed method of law enforcement attracts the favour of these “entities,” is it to be given priority over other proposals that they find less appealing? A police helicopter is not like a sports arena or a concert hall, where private sponsorship is fairly benign. It is used to watch people and to chase them. It allows police to look into apartment windows and back yards, without a judge’s warrant. It is not something to seek money for in back rooms.
Police equipment must be under strict civilian, democratic control
If we allow private financing of policing, we will give up a significant part of our democratic control. It is not enough to say that the decision to allow the use of a helicopter still rests with government. When public revenues are insufficient, as they currently are in our city, the pressure to accommodate monied special interests is considerable. At the very least, it may skew public priorities. In an area as important and difficult as policing, this is unacceptable.
The Board must take back control of this issue
As civilians overseeing the Toronto Police, it is up to you to take back responsibility for policing issues, and to insist on an open, democratic process in determining how our city is to be policed. It is up to you to insist that community concerns be foremost in these decisions.
Discontinue the helicopter program immediately
I strongly recommend that Police Services should instruct Chief Fantino to stop pursuing a patrol helicopter program for the Toronto Police.
“The police helicopter seems designed as an in-your-face sign of intimidation.” – John Sewell, Eye
A police helicopter in Nassau County,
New York demonstrating a low altitude pursuit.