Cop chopper night flights upsetting posh suburb

Author
Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Thursday, 28 June 2018, 4:06p.m.
Under its eye: the police Eagle helicopter. New Zealand Herald Photograph by Greg Bowker
Under its eye: the police Eagle helicopter. New Zealand Herald Photograph by Greg Bowker

An Auckland local board member has come under fire after suggestions the police Eagle helicopter was a "nuisance" flying over the Remuera area too often at night on its way to attend jobs in South Auckland.

He is calling for police to review the criteria for the chopper to fly at night, saying they should only be attending "higher level" incidents so his and other residents' peace and sleep is interrupted less by the chopper going to incidents south of the affluent suburb.

But police say no way, the chopper will stay - and those who don't like it should think about what would happen if they needed the "vital" service.

On Wednesday night a post appeared on the Remuera Residents Association Facebook page about "nuisance" night flights.

The post called on locals to report their experiences to Orakei local board member Troy Churton and provided his Auckland Council email address.

One of the "primary areas of concern" raised in the post was "proliferation of helicopter nuisance mostly from police between 9pm-6am flying over Remuera to get to the 75 per cent of their attendances that are South Auckland located".

The post was sent to the Herald by a number of people who described it as "arrogant", "awful" and "extremely offensive".

The post, which was described by some to the Herald as
The post, which was described by some to the Herald as "awful" and "offensive".

In September 2017 the Eagle helicopter began operating 24/7.

Police said the increase in flying hours was to enable the provision of "essential support" to on-the-ground staff tasked with keeping Auckland communities safe.

The extra hours became possible through the government's Safer Communities package which earmarked $388 million of funding for police during the next four years.

Churton told the Herald that he did not publish the post himself but knew the association was going to do it and supported it.

He said since Eagle began operating full time he had "consistently" raised the "degree of nuisance factor" with police.

Despite his council email address being published on the post, he said his feelings about the Eagle were personal and did were not representative of the board.

All contact he has had with police about the issue in the past has been in a personal capacity.

Churton said he was not backing down from his opinion on the Eagle and the reaction to his stance was "whimsy".

"I am not saying there should be no police helicopter," he said.

"What I am saying is, the new safer community approach to the use of the helicopter and the location of the helipad in relation to a lot of the observed flights the choppers are making is creating both unnecessary helicopter use and nuisance.

"My understanding also is that there is no criteria for what type of incident a chopper might be used to attend to an incident, especially after 9pm through normal sleeping hours."

Churton stood by the statement that two thirds of the flights that crossed over Remuera were to jobs in South Auckland.

He had no official statistics, rather his opinion was formed from "personal observation based on audits I have been keeping", comments from police and information from constituents.

"In the last week alone, of the flights I have monitored personally after 8pm and before 6am, including ones that I have been woken up by, three quarters were on a clear transit path from the vicinity of Mechanics Bay to the southern compass sector, or in return from that," he said.

Troy Churton has complained about the Eagle helicopter
Troy Churton has complained about the Eagle helicopter "numerous" times but police will not be changing the way it operates. NZ Herald photograph

He claimed to have been told by police that "many flights they make to the south are attending to car theft related incidents".

"I am questioning whether that level of incident justifies the level of nightly nuisance.

"I totally endorse using choppers any time of the day or night if the level of incident was higher level - armed burglaries, riots, rapists on the run, drug-running and so on."

Churton was calling on police to have a higher "threshold" when it came to sending the Eagle out at night.

"Police have criteria for when to discontinue car chases, so let's revisit some policy guidelines for when to fly choppers over areas middle of the night," he said.

Auckland City District Police operations and support manager Inspector Peter Gibson said the Eagle was a "vital and extremely effective police resource".

"(Eagle) is used to not only assist in locating and catching offenders, but also responds to other critical events," he said.

"These include countless rescues and searches to help locate missing individuals, including vulnerable elderly people and young children.

"Timeliness is critical in any of these situations, which can take place at any time of the day or night, and the 24/7 service provided by eagle allows us to immediately respond to emergency situations in an urgent manner."

Gibson revealed that police had received "numerous noise complaints" from Churton regarding the Eagle helicopter.

"The figure quoted by this person is highly inaccurate, with around 43 per cent of jobs attended by Eagle since it moved to 24/7 being located in the Counties Manukau District.

"There are no plans to change the current model and the feedback from the community since Eagle became a 24/7 operation has been overwhelmingly supportive.

"We continually receive messages from members of the public who state they feel safe and reassured when they hear the Eagle helicopter, particularly at night time, knowing it is keeping our community safe."

Gibson said police did receive noise complaints from some Auckland residents.

"Some of which relate to the noise generated by the helicopter while it's in operation during the night," he said.

"We do acknowledge that the noise can be an inconvenience on occasion to members of the public when Eagle is attending a job in their area.

"However, we want to reiterate that when Eagle is in operation, it is responding to critical jobs and we have no doubt that those who consider Eagle to be a nuisance, would appreciate the critical service it provides if it was their friend or relative who required urgent assistance."

Orakei board chair Kit Parkinson and deputy chair Carmel Claridge said several residents recently raised the issue of low flying helicopter noise with the board.

"In order to address their concerns we sought and received confirmation from the police that any activity by the Eagle helicopter was part of their usual policing operations," they told the Herald.

"The Board are completely satisfied that the helicopter activity is necessary for crime prevention measures across the city and fully support the police in their work keeping all Aucklanders safe.

"Mr Churton's facebook comments and any invitation extended to the public in those comments are made in his personal capacity. His position on this matter is not representative of the Board's views."

Andrew Dickens Afternoons

Andrew Dickens Afternoons

12p.m. - 4p.m.