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Edmonton’s police helicopter a noisy necessity above some communities

The Edmonton Police Service's new Air 1 helicopter. It was unveiled to the public on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018.
The Edmonton Police Service's new Air 1 helicopter. It was unveiled to the public on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. Courtesy, EPS

For some people living in the inner-city, hearing the Edmonton police helicopter flying overhead is an almost daily occurrence.

Natasha Pinterics moved into Alberta Avenue this summer and said she noticed it right away. On one night outdoors with some friends, they counted 22 passes by the chopper.

“When it flies over, the noise is so loud that it drowns out everything. You can’t hear the person next to you talking.

“You can kind of feel it. It increases tension. It’s an unpleasant experience.”

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Staff Sgt. Tom Bechthold of EPS Flight Operations said they are aware of the noise and they do what they can to mitigate that.

“Our members will fly at higher altitudes when they’re not working a call. However, if the call requires us to drop down to our working altitude, which is about 1,200 feet above the ground, or if the weather makes us drop to that altitude, then we do that.”

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Unfortunately, they’re at the mercy of the call they’re responding to, Bechthold said, and they will stay in the area as long as they need to.

“The intrusion into the neighbourhood starts with the criminal element and it’s our obligation and we’re duty bound to go into that neighbourhood and remove that criminal element before they continue to wreak more havoc in it.

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“This is one of the tools we use to do it.”

The Edmonton Police website details how quiet its model of helicopter is, and that even when it drops down for emergencies, it will “add little noise above such sounds as police sirens.”

READ MORE: Stronger, faster Air 1 helicopter unveiled by Edmonton Police Service

Still, Pinterics is concerned about what effect that additional noise has on the community itself.

“I’ve come across studies that say that that kind of noise exposure triggers stress hormones, increasing people’s heart rates and blood pressure, and it seems to me that kind of physical and emotional agitation is not the sort of thing that deters, but probably does the opposite.”

For police, though, it’s a very useful tool in tracking down fleeing suspects and providing support on active calls. However, they only use it when they have to and don’t just fly around to keep an eye on residents.

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“If we’re in a neighbourhood, we’re in a neighbourhood for a purpose, to look for a suspect or we’re there for a call of service,” said Bechtold.

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“That’s our job. We’re not there to spy on the citizens of Edmonton, that’s not what we do.”

They do try to work with people who have concerns.

For example, one resident on the path between the Villeneuve airport, where the chopper takes off, and downtown complained about hearing it every time it went into service. Bechthold says they now try to take different routes back to the airport when they can.

Pinterics admits that while there is a place for the helicopter in our city, for higher crime neighbourhoods, its frequent presence speaks to some bigger hurdles to get over.

“There are no shortages of emergencies here and that’s the nature of living in the inner-city. But if we dealt with the underlying issues of slumlords, addictions, mental health, and poverty, you know, that would be great.

“It’s a tall order, I understand.”