Armed robbers and car thieves will be celebrating after hearing the news that from 2016, the Lancashire-based police helicopter will be withdrawn from service.
I was a uniform inspector in Accrington when Lancashire took delivery of its first helicopter in 1994. It had the call sign ‘Oscar November 21’ and along with many other Bobbies, I wondered whether this multi-million pound ‘paraffin parrot’ was just an expensive chief constable’s folly.
Very quickly, most Bobbies came to realise the exceptional benefits of having an ‘eye in the sky’ only 10 to 15 minutes from any incident. The number of stolen car pursuits plummeted, as thieves learned they could not outrun the helicopter and there was an immediate increase in the arrest of nighttime burglars.
The helicopter’s thermal imaging camera and high intensity spotlight could pinpoint the location of criminals whether they had taken refuge on a rooftop or under a hedge in some remote field.
Not only was it a crime fighter, it also saved lives by using its ability to rapidly search large areas for vulnerable missing from homes and injured people.
Helicopters based in Manchester and Cheshire will provide Lancashire’s air support in the future. In fact, there will be just four police helicopters to cover, Cumbria, Northumberland, Durham, North Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Manchester, Merseyside and North Wales. Unfairly, the Metropolitan Police will have the same number of helicopters to cover their, by comparison, tiny force area.
It may not take long for the organised criminal to recognise there will be a minimum 30 minute response time for a helicopter to attend incidents in Lancashire from either Manchester or Cheshire.
I will leave you to estimate how far a stolen high-powered getaway car can travel in that time. Such criminals are already aware high-speed police vehicle pursuits may not be permitted during daytime traffic for public safety reasons.
There will be those who will welcome not being woken up by the sound of a police helicopter hovering overhead. However, the reality is, this is yet another austerity cut which leaves Lancashire just that little bit more vulnerable and less safe. No-one should be surprised if Lancashire suffers an increase in the number of travelling criminals stealing vehicles and committing armed robberies.