Force helicopter 'too noisy and costly'

SUFFOLK police today rejected claims the force helicopter was being over-used for trivial crimes, arguing it is a vital crime-fighting tool that reassures the public.

SUFFOLK police today rejected claims the force helicopter was being over-used for trivial crimes, arguing it is a vital crime-fighting tool that reassures the public.

It was responding to claims, aired at a meeting of the Suffolk Police Authority today, that the loud noise created by its hovering overhead caused unnecessary disturbance and excessive cost.

Concerns were raised at the meeting, held at the force's Martlesham headquarters, that the helicopter was a "status symbol" that cost a "fortune" to run.

Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter responded by saying: "It's hard to put a price on people's lives. It can cover areas that officers on foot could not."

He pointed to its importance in policing major events such as the recent international match at Portman Road and its benefit in carrying out searches, as seen in the case of the boy who recently went missing from a beach in Walberswick.

Assistant Chief Constable Colin Langham-Fitt added the cost of sending the helicopter up had to be balanced by savings in officers' time on the ground and the effectiveness it has as a crime deterrent.

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He pointed to a case where the helicopter was called to monitor the Felixstowe seafront area at times when crimes were being committed.

The meeting also heard that the helicopter was increasingly being scrambled as a crime deterrent and not just for major incidents.

The policing of persistent offenders was also covered and the meeting was told 30 of 91 recognised regular criminals are currently behind bars.

Mr McWhirter said: "They get a gold service, which is where we lock them up. The aim is to pick them up for whatever we can and put them before the courts. Our aim is to get them off the streets.

"We are doing our best to ensure persistent offenders are dealt with but it's up to magistrates to decide on each particular case."

The force was also congratulated by members of the Police Authority for its new status as the safest in England, with only two constabularies in Wales achieving greater figures.

This puts Suffolk Police well on the way to achieving its aim of making Suffolk the safest county in England and Wales by 2006.

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