Suffolk to get new police helicopter

SUFFOLK is to get new police helicopter under a �5million Home Office scheme designed to “help protect communities and tackle crime.”

Graham Dines

SUFFOLK is to get new police helicopter under a �5million Home Office scheme designed to “help protect communities and tackle crime.”

The six replacement aircraft should become operational in the 12 months from April 1. Announcing details of the contract this morning, police minister Vernon Coaker said: “Air support units play a crucial role in helping police protect communities against crime.

“They help officers with a wide range of operations, from searching for offenders or missing people, to assisting other emergency services with transporting injured people.

“I am pleased to announce that we are building on the success of our existing fleet of police aircraft with these new helicopters, and that we are strengthening the way forces work together to make best use of the resources available to them.”

A total of nine police forces will have access to the new aircraft, under the latest round of funding for police air operations. One of the helicopters will be used as part of a trial project to enable neighbouring police forces in the West Midlands to work together by sending the nearest available aircraft to incidents across force borders.

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The police aircraft fleet comprises 29 light and medium twin-engined helicopters and three fixed wing aircraft, operating from 29 units in England and Wales.

Police aircraft use hi-tech daylight and thermal imaging cameras to search for offenders who run off from crime scenes, assist in vehicle pursuits and look for vulnerable missing people. The helicopters are also fitted with 'Nitesun' - a powerful searchlight to help find offenders in the dark and also to floodlight accident scenes.

The helicopters can be used to transport critically injured people to hospital at night, which air ambulances are not equipped to do. They are also fitted with 'Skyshout' - an airborne public address system used to pass critical messages to the public or emergency services.

A pilot project has been launched in the Midlands, where eight forces are working together for the first time on air operations. The forces are trialling a system whereby the nearest available aircraft will be sent to an incident in the region, even if it means crossing police force borders. The project is expected to make significant cost savings and provide better air support in the region.

Funding for the project will provide enhanced equipment and satellite tracking for aircraft to allow faster deployment and enhanced safety for the operating crews.

Chief Constable Bernard Hogan-Howe, ACPO lead on Air Operations, said: “It is essential that the Police are able to maintain an up to date and efficient air support service. By providing this level of funding it is clear that the Government is committed to achieving this aim.”

Replacement helicopters funded under the 2009/10 capital funding grant for air support will go to the following forces: Cheshire, Cleveland, North Wales, Suffolk, Thames Valley and West Mercia

West Mercia, Thames Valley and Suffolk are all part of consortia with other neighbouring forces, meaning their new helicopters will be used by a total nine police forces.