A police helicopter charm offensive in Winnipeg

A series of videos showcase their new chopper in action

The Winnipeg Police Service has a new Internet star. No, it’s not a heroic officer or even a photogenic police dog, but a sleek, black helicopter known as Air1.

So far during its 15-month stint in the city, reaction to the chopper has been mixed. Many have questioned Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz’s decision to spend $3.5 million on the helicopter, not to mention the $1 million needed each year to keep it in the air. One critic called the helicopter a “flying press release.” It didn’t help that the aircraft has been out of commission several times this year due to a pilot shortage and maintenance problems.

Now police are seeking to boost their whirlybird’s profile by posting a series of videos on YouTube. The clips show aerial footage from high-speed chases and police nabbing thieves, all in an effort “to show the public what [Air1] does on a first-hand basis,” Police Chief Keith McCaskill told reporters.

The video clips debuted at the same time a new police report was released reviewing Air1’s first full year of operation. According to the report, last year the helicopter responded to nearly 1,800 calls and was involved in 127 arrests.

Colin Craig, director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for Manitoba, said he would have liked the report to compare Air1 with police choppers in other cities to determine whether it was worth the cost. As for the video clips, they’re a way for police “to justify the expense to taxpayers,” he says, noting the cheap uploads are far better than running pricey publicity ads on TV. “Maybe criminals are seeing [the chopper] and thinking twice about stealing cars, I don’t know.”

That’s the impression police hope to leave—not just with criminals but with city councillors and the public. Officials have said they’d like to add a second chopper to the police force’s crime-fighting arsenal.

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