Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Eagle chopper in the dark at night

Cops angry about breakdown but new heat-seeking camera on the way.

Flights have have been reduced until night vision is restored. Photo / Christine Cornege
Flights have have been reduced until night vision is restored. Photo / Christine Cornege

Frontline police are livid the Eagle helicopter's heat-seeking camera has broken down, leaving it blind during night operations.

The camera had been in a state of disrepair for more than a year, and stopped working some weeks ago.

Since then, night time operations by the Eagle have been pared back as police are unable to use "hotspot" technology to track offenders and fleeing vehicles.

Auckland District Commander Superintendent Mike Clement said police were waiting for a replacement from the United States. It's understood it could be several weeks away. The forward looking infrared (FLIR) cameras, also used by the US military, are understood to cost about $800,000.

Clement admitted the lack of the FLIR reduced the capability of Eagle but the helicopter remains available and is a valuable policing tool.

Pilots could still use night vision goggles but the lack of an infrared camera meant the Eagle was effectively blinded at night.

The three-man crew frequently used the hotspot technology to pursue suspects, monitor fleeing cars, and do search and rescue work.

Labour police spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said the camera may have been a casualty of a $40 million budget cut last year.

"These are critical pieces of equipment for police to do their job.

"We've been concerned for some time that police resources are being squeezed. Unfortunately the minister is hiding behind lower crime rates as a justification for putting this pressure on the police."

A police officer who spoke to the Herald on Sunday on condition of anonymity said frontline cops were furious.

"The boys were hassling [police management] about it," said one police officer. They were saying "this is going to go, we need to get it fixed". The inspector in charge was saying "there's no money".

The cost of running the police helicopter is about $3m a year. It averaged around 1800 flying hours and attended more than 3000 incidents a year between 2008 and 2012. The Eagle attended 3290 jobs from July 1, 2013 to 15 May 15, this year.

- Herald on Sunday

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