Helicopter hiatus

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IF this Government truly believes in local decision-making, one of the reasons for the introduction of elected police commissioners, then it would not have used legal powers to compel South Yorkshire Police to give up its force helicopter which has helped capture many criminals.

Nick Herbert, the Policing Minister, says the National Police Air Service will be more effective than current arrangements as it will bring 22 helicopters together under one organisation, compared with 32 at present, and save £15m a year.

It is a strong argument – artificial force boundaries on the ground have never served as a deterrent to criminals and it will be easier to co-ordinate any airborne police response to incidents.

An even stronger argument, however, has been articulated by the South Yorkshire force – namely that is absurd that a city as large as Sheffield should be left without instant air cover and, instead, having to rely upon helicopters based in Humberside or Derbyshire.

It is a conclusion that the police authority reached after carefully appraising the effectiveness of its helicopter. And, while Mr Herbert clearly believes that the force was motivated by self-interest, he would have been advised to consider this point – police finances are so stretched, with officer numbers at their lowest level for a decade, that it is actually not in South Yorkshire’s interests to retain a service which offers limited value for money.

This difference of opinion should have been reconciled by dialogue rather than confrontation. For, if the police commissioner model is to work and provide the local accountability so desired by Ministers, then Mr Herbert has to accept that issues, such as the location of helicopters, are for individual forces – and not Whitehall-based politicians with limited crime-fighting capabilities.