The UK’s police helicopter muddle

The UK’s patchwork quilt of police helicopter operations continues to provide great value for the helicopter industry – less so for the local taxpayer and the UK government which must despair at not having a uniform airborne surveillance capability throughout the country at a time when the terrorist threat is so high. However, as yet, there has been little extra funding for police helicopter capability.

Britain’s police forces currently fund their own helicopter operations and can – more or less – buy, lease or pay a third party to operate any helicopter, kitted out in whatever way they want. Now that makes sense: London’s Metropolitan Police and some of the bigger urban forces clearly have a need for a more sophisticated airborne infrastructure than rural Devon and Cornwall or Cumbria. But there is no consistency between neighbouring forces with similar populations and profiles. A dangerous joy-rider who crosses a country boundary into an area where the local police do not have a helicopter will only continue to be tracked if that force requests its neighbour to continue its mission.

The helicopter supplier community – gathered at Helitech in Duxford today – are probably fairly happy with the situation, and, in a way, the high level of competition and range of services available on the market probably does lead to some sort of taxpayer value. I’m not sure it should make citizens sleep more soundly in our beds though. While nobody wants police helicopters constantly buzzing over their houses and workplaces, they are unmatched as a resource for monitoring crime and tracking criminals. A central resource, perhaps managed and partly funded locally, would surely make sense.


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