Police chopper move ‘will mean a 24/7 service’
Suffolk will say goodbye to its police helicopter tomorrow when its base at Wattisham is closed.
But while the nearest National Police Air Service (NPAS) base becomes Boreham, near Chelmsford, the promise is of a round-the-clock service little different to that offered by the ex-Suffolk Police Airbus EC-135 helicopter G-SUFK at the base it shared with the Army’s Apaches.
Paul Marrion, NPAS assistant operations director for the south east, said: “Previously, it operated 19 hours a day, so there were five hours of no service between 3am and 8am.
“What you’ll have is a base that operates 24/7, 365 days a year.
“We have to accept there will be some parts of Suffolk that it will take longer to transit to, but others where it won’t.”
Though Boreham may seem a long way by car, a helicopter flying at 120 knots (138mph) could be over Bury St Edmunds in about 15 minutes.
Mr Marrion said the aim was to reach 92 per cent of call outs in 20 minutes and 98 per cent in 30 minutes.
Though the Wattisham-based pilots have taken redundancy, other officers will transfer to Boreham.
“There will be differences at a local level,” he said. “However, we believe the requirement is to offer that service 24/7.
“We need to focus it more where we have the densest population and the larger crime issues, but we don’t want more rural parts of the country to suffer.
“That’s where fixed-wing aircraft comes in because they are much faster and more cost effective.”
The fixed-wing aeroplanes will initially be based in Doncaster, but Mr Marrion said: “Once established and we’re convinced of their effectiveness, we’ll look at where else we can operate from.”
As well as operational efficiencies, they are seeking to cut costs.
Over the last four years, they have cut costs by 15 per cent and are now tasked with cutting another 14 per cent.
As a result, NPAS’ budget has reduced from almost £60 million to £38.5 million in the coming year.
He added: “It’s about how we can be more effective without incurring additional costs.
“It’s what we can do with the money available to us – that’s why we we model it in this way because it appears to be the best way to run the service.”