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Details scarce as Ontario set to buy 4 new police helicopters

Details are scarce as the Ford government prepares to throw four new helicopters at Ontario’s auto theft crisis in hopes of preventing and punishing car thieves.

As part of its annual budget, tabled at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, the province announced it would spend roughly $46 million on four helicopters set to be given to Ontario Provincial Police. The four choppers will be available to other police forces in the province as they need them.

A spokesperson for the Solicitor General confirmed to Global News that the helicopters will be owned by the OPP but said details including which “operational model” is set to be bought have yet to be decided. The process of buying the helicopters will begin during the upcoming fiscal year, the spokesperson said.

The OPP said it welcomed “support from the government that will help police combat crime and keep communities safe” but had no other details on the helicopters or how they will be deployed. Toronto police said the new tools were “excellent” news.

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“We are investing heavily in auto theft, providing first responders with the tools that they need, including the four helicopters that we’ve announced in this budget,” Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said Tuesday.

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The government, which does not directly control the policy or operations of local police forces, said it hopes to see the helicopters used to deal with street racing and impaired driving, as well as for high-risk suspect arrests and to search for missing people.

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The helicopters are part of a broader $95 million the government announced to target auto theft, including resources for OPP car theft teams.

Neither Toronto police nor Peel Regional Police have helicopters of their own and currently rely on either York or Durham regional police forces to provide air support when they need it.

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Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday about arrests made in an auto theft investigation, Toronto police Supt. Steve Watts said helicopters were especially useful in high-risk chases. With carjacking, home invasions and auto theft all becoming more common, officers are finding themselves involved in those kind of takedowns more frequently.

“We’re getting to the area of suspects that are driving with complete disregard for everyone on the roadway, so a helicopter is a huge asset, air support is a huge asset,” he said.

A recent six-vehicle collision in Scarborough is just one example of the road risks to a police chase involving a stolen vehicle. The mid-March crash left one person dead and triggered a police watchdog investigation after a stolen car allegedly fled police at speed and crashed into several other vehicles.

— With files from Ryan Rocca

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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