It’s been 20 years now since Durham Regional Police got their very own helicopter — a tool that has been imperative in helping them with a range of different calls in the massive region, officers say.
Tactical Flight Officer Lyndon Greene says its capabilities allow them to give police a different vantage point on crime.
“We will respond to any calls for service,” says Greene.
“Dispatch will send us anywhere they think we can help. That could be an impaired driver, a missing or vulnerable person.”
Named Air 1, the helicopter was the first police chopper in the region in 1999, when it was introduced as part of a pilot project. Now, it’s joined by Air 2, the York Region police helicopter.
The OPP also has two helicopters that are used in the area. Greene says with the equipment on board, they can help lay out the scene for incoming officers.
“When I’m overhead, I can tell you what’s going on 360 degrees around you and on a wider area,” Greene says.
Those calls can be for anything, day or night. While on a ride-along with the team, Global News witnessed five calls in just an hour.
To name a few: an impaired driving call, an armed person shooting at cows and a robbery call. Air 1 was called in to help with the robbery, and a short time later, its infrared cameras were able to locate the alleged suspects.
“Within one orbit, we observed three suspects that committed a break and enter fleeing the scene. We were able to initiate a takedown of the suspects,” says Greene.
The helicopter was able to shine its massive spotlight on the trio, leading police to an arrest.
Det. Const. Greene says the idea of bringing a helicopter into their toolbox came from a study in California that found one helicopter is the equivalent to 15 two-person police cruisers.
“We can put the camera on-scene, on target long before the helicopter is there or ground units,” says Greene.
Over last year alone, the police chopper responded to more than 1,000 calls. From a distance, Air 1 can see which direction potential suspects could be running from and even coordinate those directions, or potential threats to officers on the ground. That’s because the helicopter is equipped with state-of-the-art tools, including an HD video camera that has three different functions.
And to give you an idea of speed, the helicopter could travel from Bowmanville to Pickering within 10 minutes, a trip that could take at least 30 minutes with traffic — something that can be invaluable in a variety of situations, as well.
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From 2,000 feet above the ground, Air 1 can actually see a licence plate on a car — even using thermal imaging to find leads after a car has already left.
“We can see after a vehicle has been sitting stationary has left,” Greene explains. “We can estimate how long ago the vehicle has left the scene.”
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Although some may be concerned about privacy, police say the camera is limited.
“It’s not seeing through glass, it’s not seeing into people’s homes,” Greene says. “We are just able to measure the heat inside.”
But for those who do cross the line, keep in mind — police are watching.
“We’re always watching. When we’re out on patrol in the helicopter. we are actively looking at what’s going on around us.”