THE PEOPLE of Dyfed-Powys are to get better police cover from the air. New arrangements will see a helicopter continue to be based at Pembrey in Carmarthenshire, with new cover also available from elsewhere. Police and Crime Commissioner Christopher Salmon said: “This is great news for communities across our four counties. I’ve been determined for this police force to improve air cover across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys. This force covers a huge area – more than half of Wales – and policing locations so far apart brings unique challenges.”
Mr Salmon and Chief Constable Simon Prince have spent several months working towards a deal with the new National Police Air Service (NPAS) which is being rolled out following a review of air support for England and Wales. The deal, due to take effect next year, will see Dyfed-Powys’s own helicopter remain at Pembrey then be replaced at the same airport by an Airbus EC135 helicopter owned and maintained by NPAS.
It will see air support for Dyfed- Powys drawn from multiple bases and with a number of aircraft. Emergency response will be provided from Pembrey and St Athan, near Cardiff, and the force will be able to call on support from NPAS helicopters at Rhuddlan, Denbighshire, and Halfpenny Green, Wolverhampton.
The new service will cost Dyfed- Powys Police around £890,000 a year. The existing service cost the force around £1.1m in 2013-14 and is budgeted to cost around £1.2m in 2014-15. Dyfed-Powys Chief Constable Simon Prince said: “The introduction of the NPAS helicopter will allow far greater mobility to the officers of Dyfed-Powys Police and ensure that residents in every corner of the force area will benefit from this improved resource.”
The air service helps with searches for missing people, suspects and vehicles, casualty evacuation, transporting specialist teams around Dyfed-Powys’s 4,188 square miles, gathering intelligence including using automatic number plate recognition and video.
A helicopter takes around 12 minutes to search a square mile at a cost of £160 – an operation that would take 12 police officers 454 hours at a cost of around £4,680. This year the Dyfed-Powys helicopter has played a major role in recovering property worth more than £120,000, locating 23 vulnerable and missing people, and transporting seven people with life threatening injuries to hospital. It played a key role, working with neighbourhood police teams, in closing down several drugs factories and supply chains.
Flying times include Pembrey to Aberystwyth in 24 minutes; the equivalent road journey of around 64 miles takes around 112 minutes. The Dyfed-Powys helicopter unit has provided an eye-in-the-sky service for 23 years. Led by Inspector Ian Richards and featuring a sergeant, two pilots and five observers, it operates a 10-year-old Agusta 109E Power helicopter. The new arrangements will see seven of Dyfed-Powys’s nine helicopter personnel transfer to NPAS.
They will cover Dyfed-Powys but will also fly outside the area. NPAS, being paid for by all forces in England and Wales, aims to deliver a cost-effective national, borderless service making use of the nearest aircraft. It aims to improve upon current response capability. Its aircraft will be available 24/7 and will be based at strategic locations around England and Wales.