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The eye in the sky: An inside look at Regina's police plane

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CTV News recently got an inside look at the Regina Police Service’s (RPS) Aerial Support Unit (ASU) during a fly along.

The unit is a team of six members, which includes two pilots and four tactical flight officers (TFO). A crew of one pilot and one TFO fly per shift.

TFOs use an onboard camera and monitors to assist officers on the ground.

Const. Corrie Neufeld is a TFO but was a patrol officer for over 10 years before joining the ASU when it began last year.

“Having that experience on the ground has definitely been an asset to my new position in the air,” she said. “I know what [they] are looking for and what information they require to be beneficial.”

Const. Neufeld is the guide from above for the boots on the ground.

Const. Corrie Neufeld (Tactical Flight Officer) of the Regina Police Service Aerial Support Unit. (Gareth Dillistone / CTV News) “We relay real-time information to the crew on the ground,” she said. “We are able to tell ground units exactly where a person is, what they are doing and where they are going.”

The camera has extreme zoom capabilities and infrared technology allowing the ASU to have eyes on a scene in seconds.

“We can be watching a person or vehicle from seven or eight kilometers away,” Neufeld explained.

Const. Corrie Neufeld (Tactical Flight Officer) & Sgt. Steve Wyatt (Pilot) of the Regina Police Service Aerial Support Unit. (Gareth Dillistone / CTV News)“We can see a person flick a cigarette butt onto a sidewalk at night,” pilot Sgt. Steve Wyatt said.

The plane can reach speeds of over 200km/h and follow people or cars from above without the need for police cruisers on the ground.

“It’s a force multiplier,” Wyatt said. “We can take on the role of several ground cars.”

(Gareth Dillistone / CTV News) Since taking to the skies at the end of January 2023, the ASU has assisted in over 2,800 calls for service for the RPS.

“[Patrol officers] are requesting our help constantly,” Neufeld said.

 “A lot of offenders have found themselves in the back of a police car that otherwise would not have,” Wyatt added. “It saves hours and hours, sometimes days, of patrol resources searching for an offender.”

Sgt. Wyatt said ASU dispatches extend past criminal calls for service.

“A lot of vulnerable people, missing persons or suicidal folks have been located to prevent loss of life” he said.

Const. Neufeld believes the additional views from above keeps officers, criminals and the public safer.

“It’s a great benefit,” she said. “If [an offender] has their arm tucked in a sweater, they could be concealing something. That’s all information we can give to ground units so they’re more aware.”

However, RPS is also cognisant of privacy.

Despite being able to survey from the air without the need for court-issued warrants, the ASU is focused on police work.

“We can’t see through walls,” Sgt. Wyatt said. “We also don’t have time to be looking at things we shouldn’t be.”

Regina Police is also bound to freedom of information laws and regulations meaning anything the ASU sees can be publically assessed through the correct channels.

“It’s about keeping Regina safe,” Wyatt added.

Often times, the ASU also assists with calls outside Regina city limits.

Police say it highlights the collaboration between the various police forces across Saskatchewan.

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