Watchdog finds 40% of incidents where a police helicopter has been called are over before it arrives
The police watchdog says police leaders must act quickly to fundamentally change the National Police Air Service (NPAS) if it’s to help police forces further improve their efficiency and effectiveness.
There are currently 19 helicopters in service with NPAS including the Hawarden based aircraft.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has published a report today on an assessment of the NPAS service following concerns from some police forces.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) invited HMIC to carry out an inspection of police air support provided by helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and drones.
It incorporated information from all 43 police forces in England and Wales, as well as interviews with senior and front-line officers from 32 forces.
The report found that although a few forces received a quick response, many did not, with the average response to a crime in action that did not involve an immediate threat to life taking more than 30 minutes.
About 70 percent of calls for air support are allocated a target response time of 60 minutes, which in many cases is too slow to be useful.
In north Wales the average response time from call out to being on scene for a police helicopter is around 40 minutes 10 minutes more than the national average.
The report found that in over 40 percent of cases, police forces cancelled their call for support from an NPAS helicopter because the incident was over before the helicopter could arrive.
The Watchdog found that although NPAS met its response time targets, this was due to these targets being too lenient and the fact that calls that did not result in aircraft attendance were not included in the assessment of response times.
On average, it took more than 10 minutes to despatch an aircraft to the most urgent of calls and an average of almost 22 minutes to despatch an aircraft to a crime in action.
The report highlights that although most forces have purchased drones, no force has rigorously evaluated their use and, as a result, the police service has not developed a common view on their relative merit as a form of police air support.
This brings the risk that the service will lack the evidence it needs to capitalise on the developments in drone capability that the government anticipates will occur in the coming years.
“NPAS in its current form is financially unsustainable: the capital investment strategy has left NPAS without adequate funding to replace its ageing fleet of aircraft.” the report states.
The report found;
- Since 2009, the number of police aircraft has been reduced from 33 to 19
- Of the 57,562 calls that led to despatch of an aircraft in 2016, forces cancelled the aircraft on 24,873 occasions
- There has been a reduction of about 45 % in the number of hours flown since 2009.
- With each aircraft flying fewer hours on average, the cost per flying hour has doubled from £1,335 in 2009 to £2,820 in 2016/17.
- In 2016 the average cost per call for an NPAS helicopter was £1,314.
HMICFRS makes a number of recommendations in the report which will need to be implemented before an up-to-date strategy can be developed:
- A common understanding of demand should be developed.
- Analysis should be undertaken of the differences in the use of air support tactics by different forces.
- The NPCC lead for air support should carry out and publish a review of the NPAS deployment process.
- Police and crime commissioners across England and Wales, who fund the operating costs of NPAS, should be consulted on a costed fleet replacement plan
HM Inspector of Constabulary, Matt Parr, who led the inspection said:
“Among those who lead police aviation, we have found high levels of skill, dedication and commitment. In particular, we recognise the major contributions made by the members of the NPAS National Strategic Board and especially by the current chief constable of West Yorkshire Police and the police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire.
“However, we found some fundamental problems with the current collaborative arrangements for police air support, which have led us to conclude that urgent change is required – if not a fresh approach entirely. A system whereby someone in Lincolnshire paid 5p towards police air support last year, whilst someone in Cleveland paid £1.98, is one that needs a coherent strategy.
“With the number of bases being halved and the number of aircraft being cut by a third in the last 10 years, savings have primarily been made by cutting the service provided to forces rather than increasing efficiency. An inconsistent service means that many incidents requiring air support are over before a police helicopter can arrive. Moreover, we are concerned that the police service now operates insufficient aircraft to provide a consistently prompt response to incidents in all forces in England and Wales.”
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