A FORMER officer on South Yorkshire Police’s helicopter has warned of a worsened service if the county loses its own dedicated chopper.
Retired police officer Pete Norton, who teaches policing studies at Sheffield College, has written to Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield South East, to share his fears.
Mr Norton, who left South Yorkshire Police in 1996, is against the plan for South Yorkshire to be served by helicopters based in neighbouring West Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Humberside.
The Government wants to set up a National Police Air Service, where police forces share helicopters rather than having their own, in a scheme to provide ‘border-less policing’ and reduce costs. Mr Norton, who worked on South Yorkshire’s helicopter, SY99, from 1996 to 2004, said: “There will be nothing like the service we have now if we lose SY99 – response times will be at least 12 minutes from Wakefield, more from Ripley and Leconfield.
“That is, of course, if there is no head wind, they are not at the farthest end of the county and they do not have to go back to base to refuel.
“Aircraft will not be able to spend the same amount of flying time over South Yorkshire, simply because they need fuel to travel to South Yorkshire and back, and at night more fuel is needed in reserve.”
Mr Norton said he is also worried pilots and observers from neighbouring counties will not have geographical knowledge existing crew in South Yorkshire have.
He said: “Observers and pilots will have no local knowledge, I know from experience when you take off it is the time taken travelling that makes all the difference.
“If I have a pilot who knows the area I can say ‘take us to Drakehouse, Sheffield’, and the pilot will know where to go, giving the observers time to listen to the incident and prepare the equipment. The other force observers will have no local knowledge.
“The taxpayers of South Yorkshire have been funding this aircraft, who are the Government to say whether we keep it or not?”