Opinion: Christchurch police need an Eagle helicopter

The Police Eagle helicopter was trialled in Christchurch in March 2020. Photo: Michael Craig / NZH
The Police Eagle helicopter was trialled in Christchurch in March 2020. Photo: Michael Craig / NZH
OPINION: I saw something terrifying in central Christchurch on Friday night.

We’d been out for dinner and we were heading along Manchester St. It must’ve been around 10 o’clock. I didn’t pay much attention to the time because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

We pulled up to the lights on the corner of Manchester St and St Asaph St, and this car came screaming down St Asaph the wrong way. St Asaph is a one-way street remember - so this car came screaming down St Asaph against the flow of traffic, ran a red light, sped along Manchester and then ducked down one of the side streets.

It was a small white car. That’s an important piece of detail.

We couldn’t believe what we’d just seen and we certainly took things just that little bit slower for the rest of the trip.

About five-and-a-half hours later, at about 3:30 on Saturday morning, a car was seen by police on Bealey Ave and the cops flashed the lights for it to stop because they thought it might have been stolen.

There was a 15-year-old behind the wheel who didn’t stop when they saw the police lights flashing. Instead, the driver took off.

The police didn’t chase the car but eventually caught up with it after the 15-year-old driver hit another car at the intersection of Stanmore Rd and Gloucester St, then crashed into power poles and a post box.

Thankfully, the innocent person in the other car wasn’t injured, but another 15-year-old in the car the police were after was thrown out of the vehicle when it crashed and was critically injured.

So two 15-year-olds in the front and two other kids in the back - one of them 13, the other one 10. Two 15-year-olds, a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old cruising around town in a car allegedly stolen at 3:30 in the morning.

From what I saw over the weekend, the car that crashed in Linwood was white - the same colour as the car we saw speed down St Asaph St the wrong way, run a red light at the intersection of St Asaph and Manchester and disappear down a side street.

But, whether it was the same car or not, it doesn’t alter the fact that people’s lives were endangered in Christchurch on Friday night by a 15-year-old and his three associates - one of them as young as 10.

After a week when we learned that the police have no plans to increase foot patrols in the central city and at a time when it seems we’re surrounded by stories of increased criminal activity in Canterbury.

This is why I think the time has come for Canterbury to have a permanent police helicopter operating.

You’ll remember the police brought one of their Eagle helicopters down from Auckland for a five-week trial in 2020 and it was also used a few times earlier than that - after the mosque attacks and when Prince William visited Christchurch.

During the trial in 2020, the helicopter was sent to 346 incidents ranging from a water rescue, a robbery attempt and helping a man thought to be having a heart attack in a Christchurch park.

But, despite Canterbury Police themselves giving positive feedback on the trial, the powers-that-be decided it wouldn’t be made permanent.

But I think things have got to the point now where that decision needs to be reviewed.

As one local police officer wrote in a letter to the Police News magazine after the trial: “I know the cost of the Eagle is high, but if you offset it with the amount saved in road trauma, plus fewer victims of crashes, burglaries, etc, it pays for itself.”

And this police officer went on to say that every officer who had worked with the helicopter had found it beneficial in helping to prevent crime, catch offenders and increase safety.

You’ll remember there was a bit of chat about people being woken up at night by the helicopter. But an informal survey of residents found that only 24 per cent of people thought the sound or noise from the helicopter was annoying. 60 per cent said it didn’t bother them and 16 per cent said they hadn’t noticed it.

So the cops loved it. Residents seemed to like it. And my pick would be that support for Canterbury having a dedicated police helicopter would be much higher now than when the trial happened in 2020.

We have kids as young as 10 racing around town in stolen cars. We’ve got parents in the news today saying they’re scared to let their kids out of the house because of assaults. We’ve got central city businesses having to pay for security patrols because of some of the behaviour out there.

And we don’t have the police on the ground to deal with it. So is the solution in the sky?

-By John MacDonald, Canterbury Mornings host on Newstalk ZB Christchurch