June 8, 2009
Eyes high in sky at work for police
Aircraft are used to spot and track offenders on the roads
By KATE DUBINSKI
TILLSONBURG -- Next time you're thinking of putting the pedal to the
metal, look up.
The Ontario Provincial Police plane, the force's eye in the sky, could
be watching without you even knowing it.
That's how police clocked a Ferrari on the Hwy. 401 racing along at 283
That's how they tailed a motorcycle, whose driver refused to stop for
cruisers, from the 401 to St. Thomas into Aylmer and into Tillsonburg,
where the driver finally pulled over at a gas station.
About 1300 feet above ground, and especially if you've been doing the
job as long as Sgt. Don Cameron, it's not difficult to spot a speeder or
aggressive lane changer.
"Look at that guy down there. He's just flying," Cameron says as he
guides the Cessna 206 above the highway in Oxford County. "We get a lot
of high-end vehicles this way."
Porsches, Ferraris, and Mercedes are common, he says.
Cameron pilots one of three dedicated OPP traffic planes. The OPP also
rents more planes for long weekends, when patrols are increased in the
air and on the ground.
There are also four helicopters, two based in Orillia and two in
The plane Cameron flies is based out of Tillsonburg.
With Cameron in the aircraft is another officer who handles a chart
that, with simple math, can help calculate how quickly someone is
There are marks evenly spaced on the highway below and by counting how
many seconds a vehicle takes to go between the marks, officers can tell
how fast they're going.
For officers like Cameron, who's been flying for the OPP for years, it's
easy to tell which vehicles are speeding.
"I bet that guy is going about 135 km/h," Cameron estimates without
glancing at any chart, pointing to a grey vehicle passing tanker trucks.
On the flight patrols, the officer with the chart is also in contact
with four "interceptors", or cruisers, on the ground.
"The officer is checking the hash marks and if he sees someone speeding,
he'll radio the interceptors to let them know the colour of the vehicle
and the lane they are in," says Oxford OPP Const. Dennis Harwood.
The officers who radio down to cruisers on the ground often have to
present their findings when speeding, aggressive driving, or stunting
charges make it to court.
The eye in the sky program was brought back in May 2008.
Revived by OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino who saw success in Ohio --
where state police use 13 aircraft -- the program has netted more than
Charges for speeding, stunting, following too closely, impaired driving,
and careless driving have been laid, as well as numerous people caught
roadside who turn out to have outstanding warrants.
"A lot of people will see an officer set up doing radar on the side of
the road and they'll warn other people, but drivers rarely look up,"
The Ontario planes are also used for surveillance and crime scene
photography. They've helped out with searches in the Tori Stafford
abduction case, Cameron said.
"But 90% of our day is traffic patrol," he said. "This is just one of
the tools that we have."
Used with laser radar and general patrol and reports of risky behaviour,
the program has resulted in fewer fatalities on OPP-patrolled roadways,
In 2007, there were 451 fatalities. In 2008 there were 322, an almost
30% drop. In 2009, fatalities are down 10% from the same time last year.
"People are dying to get where they're going," Harwood said. "It's
tragic....If everyone drove according to the rules of the road, we
wouldn't have these problems."