Cost of po­lice he­li­copter is called into ques­tion

Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News - - Front Page -

THE cost-ef­fec­tive­ness of the he­li­copter used by Cheshire po­lice is be­ing brought into ques­tion.

Evan Morris MBE, in­de­pen­dent mem­ber of Cheshire Po­lice and Crime Panel, was last week due to ask Po­lice And Crime Com­mis­sioner David Keane how many of­fi­cers could be em­ployed for the cost of run­ning the chop­per.

Mr Morris be­came con­cerned af­ter read­ing a 2017 re­port by Her Majesty’s In­spec­torate Of Con­stab­u­lary And Fire And Res­cue Ser­vices about the Na­tional Po­lice Air Ser­vice. He said: “This na­tional re­port high­lights poor out­comes of po­lice he­li­copter op­er­a­tions and re­sponse times through­out the UK. I feel that the com­mis­sioner, who is very pro-com­mu­nity polic­ing, should be hav­ing a very close look at what the ben­e­fits have been to the res­i­dents and com­mu­nity of Cheshire.

“The ques­tion needs to be asked, would Cheshire com­mu­ni­ties ben­e­fit more from in­vest­ing this money in of­fi­cers’ feet on the ground?”

In the past, po­lice forces op­er­ated their own he­li­copters, ei­ther in­di­vid­u­ally or in small con­sor­tia.

But since 2012 air sup­port for Eng­land and Wales has been co­or­di­nated by the Na­tional Po­lice Air Ser­vice (NPAS) with the five forces in the North West served by four he­li­copters.

The HMICFRS re­port paid trib­ute to the skill and ded­i­ca­tion of those in­volved in NPAS.

But it found sav­ings had been made by cut­ting the ser­vice to forces rather than through ef­fi­cien­cies, lead­ing ● to in­con­sis­tent lev­els of sup­port across the coun­try.

Po­lice he­li­copters en route to an in­ci­dent were can­celled in more than 40% of cases of­ten be­cause the in­ci­dent was al­ready over be­fore air sup­port could ar­rive.

The aver­age re­sponse to a crime in ac­tion that did not in­volve an im­me­di­ate threat to life took more than 30 min­utes.

HM In­spec­tor Of Con­stab­u­lary Matt Parr, who led the in­spec­tion, said: “With the num­ber of bases be­ing halved and the num­ber of

air­craft be­ing cut by a third in the last 10 years, sav­ings have pri­mar­ily been made by cut­ting the ser­vice pro­vided to forces rather than in­creas­ing ef­fi­ciency.

“An in­con­sis­tent ser­vice means that many in­ci­dents re­quir­ing air sup­port are over be­fore a po­lice he­li­copter can ar­rive. More­over, we are con­cerned that the po­lice ser­vice now op­er­ates in­suf­fi­cient air­craft to pro­vide a con­sis­tently prompt re­sponse to in­ci­dents in all forces in Eng­land and Wales.”

The re­port found the cost per fly­ing hour had in­creased from £1,335 in 2009 to £2,820 in 2016-17.

There was in­suf­fi­cient fund­ing to re­place the age­ing NPAS air­craft, with bud­gets hav­ing been used to up­grade ex­ist­ing air­craft, rather than pur­chase new ones. The re­port high­lighted that although most forces have pur­chased drones, no force had rig­or­ously eval­u­ated their use and as a re­sult, the po­lice ser­vice has not de­vel­oped a com­mon view on their rel­a­tive merit as a form of po­lice air sup­port.

NPAS has a fleet of 19 he­li­copters – be­tween 10 and 14 are avail­able on any given day.

Evan Morris, in­set, queries the cost of the force he­li­copter

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