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Fighting crime - from 1,000 feet in the air

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In the evening sky over a subdivision outside Toronto, we're circling in a Bell JetRanger helicopter. Below is a man who allegedly violated a court order earlier by leaving flowers on the seat of his former wife's car.

"Leaving flowers is an arrestable offense?" one of the men in the helicopter asks.

But the suspect has reportedly been drinking, and has a history of drunken driving and evading arrest. And there is, after all, the restraining order.

When the call from the ex-wife came in, we arrived at the scene almost instantly. Now, the suspect is cornered in his house, even if he doesn't realize it. Were he to slip out the door, Constable Todd Petzold's infrared camera would pick up his body heat as a white splotch.

Police forces around the world are discovering the patrol helicopter as a powerful tool for extending the speed and reach of the law - and avoiding dangerous high-speed car chases.

But the helicopter is also expensive equipment that puts the police 1,000 feet above the action when law enforcement is rediscovering the importance of pounding the pavement and getting to know neighborhoods.

Advocates of the helicopter are untroubled by this. They just know that with the helicopter, they get their guy: He can run, but he can't hide.

"They'll want to talk with him, maybe arrest him," says Constable Petzold of the ex-husband, after three squad cars arrive and patrolmen surround the house.

As our civilian pilot flies us back to the Oshawa Municipal Airport, Petzold adds, "But you'd have to have a crystal ball to know what's going to happen with him - is he going to get violent?"

Many experts say that having police taking calls like this seriously is exactly what is needed to stop violence against women. But his comment implicitly acknowledges how hard it is to know whether such a police response is an overreaction.

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