A new toy, or real solutions?

Yesterday's Winnipeg Free Press featured an article revealing that a report by City police officers exaggerated the benefits of a police helicopter for the City of Winnipeg. The author of the study on which much of this report is based points out that the authors have been fairly selective in emphasizing the positive and minimizing the negative aspects of the case for police helicopters.

An editorial in today's paper asks whether Winnipegers have really been given a clear picture of the costs of a helicopter, especially given that benefits in terms of crime prevention are not entirely clear. The choice to procure a helicopter as a crime-fighting strategy, the editorial points out, is more a question of "taste" than actual evidence-based policing strategy.

I can't help but wonder if, when our new helicopter spends the majority of its time over the same areas of the city, anyone at City Hall or the Province will stop to think that perhaps they are missing the real issue. Do we really need to spend a couple of million dollars a year on what is esentially a policing "toy?" Perhaps our money and attention would be better spent on community economic development strategies, addressing child poverty or re-evaluating how investment in sprawling suburbs is undermining the health of core area neighborhoods.

As with health care, it's a lot easier to throw money and "stuff" at the problem of crime that it is to look for lasting solutions. Given the substantial evidence of the social determinants of health and social and economic roots of crime, it seems to me it's about time we stopped trying to paper over the real issues and made some difficult decisions about what's really going on.