9 Mar 2020

Eagle helicopter: Canterbury police want it to stay but it's too noisy for some residents

1:51 pm on 9 March 2020

Canterbury's top police officer would like the police Eagle helicopter to become a permanent feature in the skies above Christchurch.

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Some Christchurch residents complain they are being woken up when the police Eagle helicopter flies through their suburb. Photo: Supplied / NZ Police

That's despite complaints from some residents about the noise.

It's an issue that pits safety against people's right to a good night's sleep.

Mt Pleasant resident Lucida Chapman said three weeks into the five-week trial of the chopper, she has had enough.

"While I wondered why they're doing that, it's intrusive. It wakes me up in the middle of the night and I don't like it. I don't even know why they're there. Somebody said that they're there just to reassure people that they're looking out for us, but that doesn't make me feel that way."

Linwood local Milo Pascoe was also not a fan.

"It's woken up my granddaughter, I don't know how many times so it's, yeah, we're not big fans of it in the house. It's a pain in the bum. I appreciate that it's there and I like the fact that the crime rate's gone down, but it's still a pain in the bum."

These two residents were not alone in feeling annoyed about the noisy inconvenience that came with keeping the city safe.

Since the trial started 21 days ago there had been 18 complaints to the Christchurch City Council's noise control unit.

Councillor Yani Johanson said he had fielded half a dozen complaints from people in his Linwood ward about noise and worries about privacy.

"The other thing for a lot of people in Christchurch obviously - it brings back a lot of memories of some of the disasters and tragedies that we've been through over the past decade. So people are pretty sympathetic to the fact that police need to use tools to do their job, but they're also I think a bit concerned about just the impact of the noise."

Keen to foster some positive associations with the helicopter, the police had it land in the middle of the ground and deliver the ball ahead of a Crusaders' match.

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The Eagle helicopter over the Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch before a Crusaders' Super match. Photo: Facebook / Canterbury police

The police have also held a colouring in competition featuring the chopper. First prize was a Lego police helicopter.

District Commander Superintendent John Price admitted most of the feedback they had been getting involved grumbles about the noise.

Some of this may have been due to the warm summer nights, leading to more people having their windows open in the evening, he said.

"I think there's something we just need to work through is the noise versus the benefit of saving someone's life. I honestly think there is no cost you can put on being able to save the life of another human being."

Four-hour break during the night

In order to keep the disruption to a minimum, the chopper normally had a break between 11pm and 3am and circled high enough that the noise never became unbearable, he said.

Price noted that since the trial started, it had only been in the air 16 percent of the time.

It was not mindlessly patrolling the skies and only took to the air when there was a threat to life, he said.

"In the last three weeks we've attended in excess of 200 jobs. That's 200 times when people have called us and asked the police to respond, and in that time they've actually been able to apprehend 145 people."

He would like to see the Eagle helicopter set up home in the city permanently.

"What I'm hearing on the ground from our staff is they absolutely love it. Being available in the air and being able to give clear directions, especially if you're looking for an armed offender or something, that just provides a really great safety net for our staff."

The police eagle helicopter.

Christchurch police love the helicopter being trialled on their patch, District Commander Superintendent John Price says. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Price said they had also received positive feedback, something RNZ noted when we approached people on the streets of Ōtautahi yesterday, including Anthony Brown.

"It's just safer for everyone when they're driving chasing all the young ones, just let them go and let the bird find them. Safer for everyone I guess."

Sacha Rickerby was also happy to put up with the noise.

"If it's getting results, I guess as long as they didn't overdo it."

Once the trial has ended, public feedback and the helicopter's effectiveness would be considered by Police National Headquarters, before a final decision was made on whether the city should join Auckland in getting its own Eagle helicopter.

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Photo: Facebook / Canterbury police

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