The controversial seven-month copper chopper trials will be grounded at the end of next month, but opposition to the noisy multi-million-dollar police toy is just taking off. Citizen groups Stop the Police Helicopters and NoiseWatch recently wrote Sheila Basrur, the city's medical officer of health, requesting that she report to council on the health effects of the noisy bird.
And some city councillors are already predicting the helicopter will be a wedge issue in the coming budget tussle, especially with the city facing tax hikes, capital budget pressures, squeezed social services and, of course, a ballooning police budget that could swell to over $550 million next year. (Word is, the cops will seek a 7-per-cent increase.)
The police copter would add another $2.5 million annually to that figure.
This means Mayor Mel and police chief Julian Fantino's sky toy could irk the fiscal conservatives on council as well as lefties worried about out-of-control police costs -- enough to ground it.
New police services board appointee councillor Bas Balkissoon, a former budget committee member who usually backs the mayor, says his colleagues will have to get a handle on these other money matters before they can seriously entertain flying choppers.
"There are a lot of issues to be resolved first before you could say anybody could get any increase," he says.
Meanwhile, the lefties on council will be hammering home the fact that certain areas of the city are in dire need of social services, not more police presence.
"Two million dollars can start off building a community centre in York," says councillor Olivia Chow. "And the York area has been desperately in need of a community centre for decades."
Chow adds that the crime stats tend to be highest in areas where there are few services for youth.
But it's the noise factor that could end up knocking the copter out of the sky. The police helicopter unit says it has received 192 noise complaints since the pilot project started last July.
As well, city auditor Jeffrey Griffiths, who will carry out an independent review of the chopper trial and report back to the police services board sometime in the new year, says his office has received about 100 complaints.
Copter opponents point to recent studies, including Basrur's March report entitled Health Effects Of Noise, showing that nocturnal noise that interrupts sleep patterns can cause suppression of the immune system.
As well, a U.S. study by the Natural Resources Defence Council on the health effects of helicopter noise in New York City reported earlier this year that "aircraft noise has been found to produce adverse health effects ranging from headaches, sleep disruption and hypertension to compromised cardiovascular and gastrointestinal functions."
"We're relying on our members to lodge complaints with the police board, and we're hoping they (the police) will be honest with them," says NoiseWatch president Eric Greenspoon. "When they call that number (808-0901), we don't know what they do with the complaints."
If the current pilot project is approved, the cops will be looking to lease a helicopter that will patrol Toronto from the skies six days a week, seven hours a day.
"I'm cautiously optimistic (we'll get it), but we'll see what happens," says deputy police chief Steve Reesor. "It's a fairly politically contentious issue." firstname.lastname@example.org