Several years ago the Winnipeg Police Service (read Mayor Katz) decided that Winnipeg needed (read wanted) a helicopter. At that time I wrote a series of posts commenting on the decision-making process employed to determine whether the police service should acquire a helicopter, as well as the nuts and bolts of running a flight operations unit.
Links to the previous posts are listed here:
The Winnipeg Police Service recently issued the 2012 Flight Operations Unit Annual Report.
It is of some interest to note that the Flight Operations Unit is the only unit within the Police Service that issues an in-depth annual report, separate and apart from the normal Winnipeg Police Service Annual Report. Perhaps this is a forerunner of other unit annual reports to come. I’m being facetious of course.
The only reason the Flight Operations Unit issues a stand alone annual report is to justify the initial capital and subsequent ongoing operational expenditures of the unit. The real purpose of the report is to demonstrate that the original decision to purchase a helicopter was a good one.
Although I have not dissected the report in detail I have noticed a number of interesting points.
When the helicopter idea was being ‘sold’ to the public, politicians and police officials talked about the helicopter being in the air 4 to 5 hours a day. The 2012 reports shows 2.7 hours of flight time per day.
One of the primary reasons originally cited for acquiring a helicopter, was to deal with Winnipeg’s ongoing problem of auto theft. A helicopter it was argued would be very beneficial in terms of discouraging auto theft and, in cases where cars had been stolen, tracking stolen vehicles on the road and assisting in the arrest of auto thieves.
In a previous post I argued that if the Police Service operated a helicopter it would only be available to assist in approximately 12% of stolen car chases. At the time, some questioned my calculations and subsequent estimate. Turns out I did indeed miscalculated…. by 2%. In 2012 the police helicopter was available to assist in a total of 5 pursuits which works out to just under 14% of the total number of car chases that took place.
And what happened to the promise in terms of the positive effect a helicopter would have on auto theft rates in Winnipeg? In the last 12 months auto theft has gone up 10%, this during a period that the Flight Operations Unit was up and running. This comes on the heels of many years of double-digit declines thanks to the Auto Theft strategy.
And things are not looking better for 2013. Although the numbers are still small this early in the year, the rate of auto theft in Winnipeg climbed 23% so far this year when compared to the same period last year.
Also of interest is the cost per “arrest” in which the helicopter played a role. Based strictly on the operating budget the Unit spent $1,327,950.00 in 2012. Based on that figure the cost per arrest that the unit ’assisted‘ with is in the range of $7200.00. If, however, the capital depreciation cost of the helicopter is factored in then the cost of operating the unit is more in the range of $ 1, 727,590.00 and the cost per arrest jumps to $9300.00. *
Contrast that with the cost and the results generated by the Warrant Apprehension Unit. They also get bad guys off the street – not by ‘assisting’ or being in the vicinity but by actually going out into the street, and doing investigations and apprehensions. The cost of that unit is in the range of $ .8 million and with an arrest rate of approximately 800 per year, the cost per arrest is in the range of $1000.00, a far cry from $9300.00.
Were an additional $1,727,590.00 allocated to the Warrant Apprehension Unit at $1000.00 a head they could have arrested an additional 1700 criminals. That would be a somewhat better return on the dollar than the 285 arrests the Flight Operations Unit ’assisted’ with.
* I’m not suggesting that the number of arrests should be the only criteria used to measure the performance of the Unit. However, based on the fact that all but one of the anecdotal examples of Unit activities cited in the report involve arrests, it is obvious that the Winnipeg Police Service sees this as one of the primary, if not the prime function of the Unit.