Police spy in the sky

Police helicopter
Police helicopter

POLICE took to the skies of Wigan borough 84 times in the past year in the fight against crime.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request revealed that in 2013/14, the force’s helicopter was called into action in Wigan to deal with 185 incidents.

The most common incidents included looking for stolen or suspect vehicles, searching for missing persons, looking for cannabis farms using the thermal image camera, and pursuits.

Despite multi-million pound cutbacks and changes to operating procedures, Greater Manchester Police say it is still a vital tool in the fight against crime.

A spokesperson from the air support unit, said: “Since 2011, the five North West police forces signed up to an agreement that saw the launch of a regional air support unit, offering the North West region a flexible, cost-effective and cross-border helicopter fleet.

“Since that time, we have reduced flying time by up to 10 percent with better tasking and dispatches.

“For example, we no longer have to worry about borders – we can have the closest helicopter deployed quickly to any incident and if there are two incidents in the same Force area, then two helicopters can be deployed as necessary. We have also made some significant savings.

“In January last year, the same five forces joined the National Police Air Service. Again, the launch of the NPAS was to deliver a more cost effective service, balancing the need to save money in a challenging economic environment against the need to ensure the police have a quickly deployable asset that can be used to tackle crime and protect the public.

“The NPAS allows us to operate the helicopters at a lower cost than if their services were procured and managed locally.

“It is vital we maintain the services helicopters provide, because they have proven to be a hugely effective way of detecting crimes and protecting the public. For instance, a lot of our call-outs are to help locate a suspect who has just committed a crime, locate people who have gone missing and pursue vehicles used in criminality, so the helicopters are an integral part of tackling crime.”

The role of the police helicopter has come into the spotlight of late in the borough.

Last month a 15-year-old boy who shone a laser pen at a police helicopter over Wigan was ordered to meet the pilot whose life he endangered.

A youth court hearing at Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court was told the teenager targeted the aircraft “on a number of distinct occasions so it could not have been said that it was happening by accident”.