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The National Police Air Service (NPAS) has responded to the revealing investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. The service acknowledged the critical judgments put forth by the U.K. government, but explained it has been making efforts — however unsuccessful — during the last several years to combat these shortcomings.
“West Yorkshire Police and my office has worked really hard with their counterparts regionally and nationally on this first-ever national collaboration following the government decision to abolish the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) back in 2013, which was originally intended to host NPAS,” said West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson in a statement. Burns-Williamson is the chair of NPAS, which is led by West Yorkshire Police as the lead force and local policing body. “Many of the areas identified in the report are already recognized, and there is ongoing work to address them.”
He continued to say that NPAS has “successfully delivered phase one of the first national collaboration of this kind” — a borderless 24-hour police aviation service.
One of the most concerning findings of the report is that the NPAS fleet is not able to keep up with the needs of police units in England and Wales. “Many incidents are over before an aircraft can reach the scene,” the report said. Contributors to this circumstance could be lack of adequate funding, lack of adequate helicopters and equipment, an outdated strategy and other items the report highlighted.
“It is widely acknowledged that NPAS has achieved a lot but that there is a need to consider the next stage of development for the service including a clear user requirement for police aviation and how drones can impact on the wider service,” Burns-Williams said. “We had previously submitted a bid for transformation funding on the use of drones, which was unsuccessful. But this work clearly needs to now be addressed by the [National Police Chiefs Council] and NPAS.”
The report noted that while most forces have purchased unmanned aircraft systems, there are currently no standard operating procedures for them or common understanding of how they might augment current air support operations.
“The journey to having a national police air service has been challenging for NPAS and we have learnt a lot along the way. To deliver stretching national efficiencies, we have sought to change the expectations of police forces about the role of air support in policing and to do so has been a difficult process,” said Chief Constable Dee Collins. “We look forward to working with [National Police Chiefs Council] and home office colleagues as we continue this journey and we hope to provide others that follow with a blueprint for national delivery.
“Our pilots and staff provide an invaluable service, particularly within the context of national austerity imposed on the police service where running costs have been significantly reduced from £55 to £38m and are significant factors to be borne in mind,” Collins continued.