SOUTH Yorkshire’s police helicopter takes to the skies 20 times a day - cracking crimes and saving lives that would otherwise be lost if it is axed, the county’s most senior officer warned today.
The helicopter was used 598 times last month - an average of 140 call-outs a week.
But South Yorkshire’s Chief Constable Med Hughes fears the county’s crime-fighting capability would be weakened, and lives put at risk, if his force loses its own dedicated helicopter, based in Sheffield, under plans to form a new national police air service.
The scheme would see South Yorkshire lose its chopper, and helicopters based in the East Midlands and West Yorkshire deployed to the county when needed instead.
But Chf Con Hughes fears emergencies closer to the air bases would get priority over incidents in South Yorkshire.
Last month the helicopter was scrambled to search for 178 suspects - 107 of whom were at large in Sheffield.
It was also sent airborne to help look for 44 missing people, and was directly responsible for locating four.
In addition to providing overhead surveillance at football matches, and incidents of disorder across the county, the helicopter also responded to 108 requests for policing support last month, and was directly responsible for 30 arrests.
It helped in 42 other arrests, located 12 vehicles, and assisted in the recovery of £98,000 worth of property and drugs.
One of the lives saved by the helicopter was that of a 15-year-old suicidal girl, who was spotted near a pond by air support crew 10 minutes after the chopper took off.
A suicidal city man was also located by the helicopter on a bridge near the River Don at Meadowhall, and a Barnsley man threatening to kill himself after leaving home with a rope was located by air support staff.
One of the suspects arrested thanks to eagle-eyed helicopter crew was a man armed with a knife, wanted following an attack.
Chf Con Hughes said it is vital to get the force helicopter airborne immediately when lives are at risk, crimes are in progress or suspects are at large.
“These incidents go to show the importance of having a helicopter close to the scene of crimes in South Yorkshire, particularly Sheffield, which as one of Britain’s largest cities deserves an effective service,” he said.
“Current national plans are based simply on circles drawn on a map, showing how far helicopters can fly. Under current plans we would be badly served by helicopters based near Wakefield and Derby.”
He said he is in “constant discussion” with those behind the plans - and that if South Yorkshire loses its helicopter the Force would still have to pay £1.5 million a year towards the cost of the national air support unit.