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Source: New Zealand Police

Police air support – commonly known as Eagle – will be trialled from a base in Christchurch for five weeks, from 17 February to 20 March 2020.

“We’ve seen the benefits Eagle has brought to policing and public safety in Tāmaki Makaurau, and we would like to see whether other communities benefit from having closer access to this service and its benefits,” says Commissioner of Police Mike Bush.

Police’s Auckland-based Air Support Unit provides 24/7 aerial deployment to the upper North Island. Although it is available to deploy on a national basis, more than 96 percent of Eagle is deployment is within the wider Auckland region.

Police wants to investigate whether there is the demand to expand that service. The five week trial will provide an overview of, and more information on the demand profile, for Canterbury and its surrounds.

“Policing has changed significantly since the inception of the Auckland-based Air Support Unit Eagle in 1988,” says Commissioner Bush.

“Eagle now attends more than 6000 incidents a year with over half of these (52.4 percent) involving road policing and road safety, including fleeing driver events.

“It is clear that air support offers benefits to our frontline policing by providing aerial surveillance and monitoring from a safe distance and with a wider picture – enabling an efficient response and resolution.

Of events attended by Eagle outside of Tāmaki Makaurau, Canterbury is the second highest in Eagle attendance (after Waikato). It is also well positioned in the middle of the South Island to provide support to other southern locations.

“These factors make Canterbury Police District the obvious location of choice for a possible expansion of Eagle,” says Commissioner Bush.

In preparation for Eagle’s arrival Police has engaged with the local community.

“We are aware that Eagle’s arrival will be a change for local staff and the wider community” says Superintendent John Price, Canterbury District Commander.

“So we have been talking with community groups and local leaders and we encourage people to come to public events with our Eagle team during the trial.

“Eagle was deployed to Canterbury on four separate occasions around the horrific attack of March 15; to provide surveillance, and for the visit of HRH Prince William. During these deployments Eagle also attended a number of requests for service, such as road safety, back up/surveillance for search warrants, and assistance during search and rescue events.”

While Eagle is trialled in Christchurch, services will remain operational in Tāmaki Makaurau. The Air Support Unit will send a fully equipped helicopter and crew (Police staff and pilot) to be based in Christchurch throughout the five week trial. Eagle will be available to attend a range of events including road policing and prevention activities, and search and rescue events.

“This is all part of improving public safety, which is our purpose as Police. We want our communities to be safe and feel safe,” says Superintendent Price.

Once the trial is complete, the staff and helicopter will return to Auckland. There will be a full evaluation which will be considered by Police on the potential for any future expanded deployment.

ENDS

Questions and Answers

What kind of helicopter will it be?

The helicopter is a Bell 429, the same model currently deployed in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Will it be noisy?

Helicopters do make noise, however, the Eagle crew are conscious of this and will look to minimise the noise where possible during flight.

How many staff will be involved?

Each shift will have three helicopter crew members (including a pilot). Police support staff and district staff will also be part of the trial.

How much will the trial cost?

The trial will be completed using current Police helicopter resource and equipment.  Any other costs through staff travel and accommodation will be paid for within the New Zealand Police budget.

When will there be a decision on whether Police will expand the air support service, and if it’s favourable when would the service begin?

This is a trial. It is not appropriate to try to guess the outcome. We are going undertake the trial, stop, then evaluate it. Once that is done, depending on the results, we will consider potential next steps.

Is the Auckland service being compromised during the trial in Canterbury?

No. Auckland will still have two helicopters available and all the staff they require to operate.

Is this in response to March 15?

No. It is clear that Eagle offers additional benefits to frontline policing that our cars and our people simply can’t, through providing aerial surveillance and monitoring from a safe distance with a wider picture.

We have seen the benefits Eagle has brought to policing and public safety in Tāmaki Makaurau, and we are looking at the viability of adding to the current service to enable other communities to have better access to this same service and its benefits. Christchurch is a well-positioned hub in the South Island, it also has a relatively flat landscape which is beneficial to surveillance and monitoring from the air.

 Issued by Police Media Centre

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