Police helicopter support in Hertfordshire plummets under new scheme

An NPAS police helicopter

An NPAS police helicopter - Credit: Archant

The number of incidents given air support in Comet country has plummeted by 85% since the Herts and Beds police helicopter was axed and replaced by a national scheme,

In July 2011, Herts and Beds police forces signed up to the National Police Air Service (NPAS) project – a scheme run by the Association of Chief Police Officers which saw the air support system replaced with a service organised nationally, saving about £15.27 million (22.8%).

The scheme was implemented on October 1, 2012, and saw the closure of RAF Henlow as a police helicopter base.

Now 11 police force areas in the south east region – including Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire – are covered by four police helicopter bases in Essex, Suffolk, Surrey and Oxfordshire.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Comet has discoverd that since the change there has been an 85% decrease in the number of incidents attended by a police helicopter in Comet country. From October 1, 2012, to October 1, 2013, a police helicopter attended 29 incidents in Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth GC and Baldock. In the previous year, before the change, this figure stood at 188, and between October 1, 2010, and October 1, 2011, a police helicopter attended 314 incidents across the four towns.

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Before the move to a national service, Andrew White, the then chief executive of the now defunct Hertfordshire Police Authority, expressed concern.

He said the Herts and Beds police authorities had signed up to the proposal on the understanding air support would be supplied by the Met Police. But the Met Police are yet to join NPAS.

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A Facebook campaign group – Save the Herts and Beds Police Helicopter – was also set up by a resident and attracted support from almost 1,000 people.

On hearing the statistics, the campaign leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We knew they couldn’t provide the same service.

“The helicopter is not there as a deterrent anymore – that must have had an effect. Cable thefts, ramraids, stolen cars – all must have gone up. The police helicopter was also fundamental in the safe pursuit of criminals.”

David Lloyd, police and crime commissioner for Hertfordshire, said: “The chief constable and I are aware of the issue and have made our dissatisfaction known to the NPAS command team about the lower levels of air support in Hertfordshire since the change.”

A spokesman for NPAS said the assessment for deployment of a police helicopter – which is used for incidents such as locating missing or injured people, or locating and following suspects or vehicles from the air – is made based on risk, demand, availability, cost effectiveness and information and intelligence.

The NPAS’ chief operating officer Ian Whitehouse said: “It is noted aircraft requests for the region are down, however; operational commanders within NPAS and local police commanders are in regular contact to ensure the service provided is effective and that we maximise the use of air assets.

“We will ensure value for money to the taxpayer and look at how we can provide an improved service across the country that is cost effective, efficient and meets operational demands.”

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