Whatever happened to Toronto’s police helicopter?
The announcement that Durham Regional Police is the proud new owner of a heavy duty Tactical Rescue Vehicle reminded me that Toronto never did get the police helicopter we were told was an absolute necessity.
Durham was the first police force in Ontario to get its own helicopter, and can now add the seven-tonne TRV, which it describes as “a new tool to deal with dangerous hostage taking and barricaded person calls” to its arsenal.
It was donated by General Dynamic Systems of London, Ont., but is more widely used by armed forces as an armoured personnel carrier, with the ability to withstand the blast of an incendiary explosive device.
I wonder if Toronto police are as envious as they were when Durham got its helicopter in the late 1990s, prompting an angst-ridden campaign by Julian Fantino, Toronto’s police chief from 2000 to 2005, to get one of his own.
Fantino was on the warpath early in his tenure about the need for a helicopter, and managed to get the city to fund a six-month pilot project, which gave police a taste of the high life.
Some people remember Chopper One for incessantly hovering over residential areas late at night, where the noise kept people up and made them uneasy about a constant police presence in the air.
I covered city hall for the Star when he was chief and remember hearing a story about the chopper hovering for hours above a neighbourhood where a prominent local politician lived. He allegedly lost his cool over the noise, got on the phone to police late at night and told them to take their helicopter and flock off.
After city council pulled the plug on the project, Fantino went ratcheted up the offensive, insisting that a major city such as Toronto would be vulnerable without one, especially in the post-911 era.
When it became clear that the police services board would never approve the expenditure, he began courting private donors to pay for it, along with senior levels of government.
Concerns were raised about what donors might want in return, as well as increasing the perception of a police state. Fantino accused the quibblers of being paranoid and questioning the integrity of police (his usual response to questions he found impertinent).
The former Tory government promised him $1 million in temporary funding, but when it lost the 2003 provincial election, the Liberals cancelled it.
That was the last gasp for the helicopter, and with none of the dire consequences Fantino predicted.
I think we’re getting along just fine without it, and I’m not sure Durham will wear out its TRV any time soon by responding to calls for “dangerous” (is there any other kind?) hostage takings.