Police helicopter costs close to �6,700 per arrest made

SUFFOLK: Police today launched a robust defence of the force helicopter after it emerged each arrest it was involved in cost an average of nearly �6,700.

Figures released by Suffolk Constabulary for 2009/10 reveal it took �1.25million to operate the aircraft. During that financial year the helicopter was involved in 188 arrests.

However, officers said they feel the figure per arrest is misleading because the aircraft undertook 1,318 tasks during the year at a cost per task of �950.

Nishan Wijeratne, a spokesman for Suffolk police, said: “The constabulary’s air support unit (ASU) plays a key, unique role in day-to-day policing, as well as specific operations to combat crime, identify criminals, improve road safety, search areas and locate vulnerable people in distress.

“The handful of specially-trained air observers assist in the hunt for criminals. They also carry out a multitude of other tasks to keep Suffolk safe.

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“The helicopter is deployed for police pursuits to maintain officer and public safety, monitoring the offending vehicle from the air and directing officers to the location of the offenders. In addition, the helicopter usually flies over roads notorious for speeding motorists.

“The helicopter’s camera equipment allows it to film incidents, providing live pictures to commanders elsewhere.

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“The helicopter’s thermal imaging camera not only allows officers on board to locate suspects, but also people reported missing. Several hundred people have been found safe and well following the deployment of the helicopter.”

Mr Wijeratne said there were no plans to disband the unit.

Suffolk forms part of a consortium between Essex, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk whereby each force will cover the four counties, as well as Kent, providing 24-hour air support cover in each county.

Suffolk’s police federation acknowledged the worth of air support, but believes it can be diminished by a lack of officers on the ground.

Federation chairman Matt Gould, said: “There are two elements to this. The helicopter saves a massive amount of manpower, time and money, particularly in searching for missing or vulnerable people. It also allows us to conduct pursuits more safely, and lessens the risks for the public and my officers.

“However, if we spend that amount of money on an air operations department, it is not being spent on people on the ground. If you have not got officers on the ground, then there is no point in the helicopter being up in the air.”

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