Posts Tagged 'helicopter'

I don’t think I ever seen so many headlights…

Seen the helicopter up overhead and five police cars dashing off in the same direction? A sign of a huge incident perhaps? Not necessarily, how we allocate resources to jobs depends on a variety of factors as you’ll see below.

Fairly frequently I receive the following tweet from a curious member of the public – ‘There are six police cars blocking off such and such street and I’ve just seen the helicopter drop a police dog down somebody’s chimney, do you know what’s happening?’.

Often I’m off duty when I get these messages so am in no better position than anyone else to say, sometimes if I am in and have heard what’s occurring on the radio I may be able to give a general idea, although the best place to look for information is usually our official departmental social media feeds.

As it is, the sight of police car after police car zooming by usually gives the impression that something big is going down nearby, ‘big’ as in headlines of the news at six and front page material.

Curiously though it isn’t necessarily true that the more the officers, the more serious the incident they’re on their way to. How we allocate resources to jobs depends a range of factors extending beyond simply that Godzilla is kicking down bits of Streetly.

Some jobs require as many officers to attend as possible in the first instance as without ‘flooding the area’ as we call it, we determine it’s likely that we won’t get the outcome we’re looking for.

Young missing children would be a good example of this – the usual response when we get a report of a toddler having wondered off in the Saddlers Centre is to ask anyone available to make the location straight away and help with the search.

The longer we leave it, the further an inquisitive young explorer can crawl and so with each passing minute, our search area grows.

The same logic applies to other incidents too – a robbery for example will (literally) attract every man and his dog as we want to maximise our chance of catching suspects.

Sometimes you may see large number of vehicles at an incident because we have some information that we might need a large number of officers for safety or perhaps to stop someone slipping out the back door.

Prior to arrest attempts, for example, we’ll check what we know about the person we’re after and if there are suggestions that he or she has been violent in the past or has a tendency not to stick around, we’ll then ensure we have enough pairs of boots to prevent issues.

Deciding who goes to what is largely the job of the control room who will allocate cars to incidents as soon as they’re sent across from the 999 operators.

Jobs involving violence or some other disturbance will usually attract pairs of officers, as some of those responding may well be patrolling single crewed then you may see the cars stacking up outside a neighbouring house giving the impression that something huge is happening whereas in reality, it’s simply down to the fact that officers have brought a car each.

When it comes to deploying the helicopter, probably our most visible bit of kit, its presence doesn’t necessarily mean there’s been a Holby City-style disaster, rather that officers on the ground have determined that asking for a flyover would likely help them spot something not visible at street level.

Metal thieves laying low on rooftops, criminals running off down footpaths or vulnerable people wondering through large open areas are all the sort of situations that may well involve us calling up the chopper.

As for who comes out to jobs, sometimes who might find that the type of unit arriving isn’t quite what you might expect.

I’ve heard recently firearms officers arriving at car accidents and police vans checking out trouble causing drunks in the town centre – this isn’t because they were specifically asked for, rather because the officers will have overheard jobs on the radio and volunteered to attend in the first instance because they may have been close by and are willing to help out until a more appropriate unit arrives.

So in short, the number of officers arriving at an incident doesn’t necessarily indicate that something major has happened and nor does the type of vehicle or officer that we send.

It’s all down to what’s happening on the day – it could be Godzilla on a rampage, equally so though it could be that another officer or two is needed to help with some traffic control.

The jobs where there has been a major incident with us calling in officers from far and wide – the bomb scares, large fires and serious road accidents as examples – usually attract a tweet or two from @WMPolice or one of the local feeds so if you’re ever curious to know what’s happening, check them out as they’re your best source of information.

It’s like a mansion, look at all this stuff! Look, I see something over there…

Today has been the long awaited Walsall Police Station open day, the first time in fifteen years that we’ve thrown open the doors of the station to show members of the public what we do. Question is, was it worth the wait?

Was it just! I’d go as far as to say that today has perhaps been the most enjoyable shift I have yet worked in the job with hundreds upon hundreds of people visiting throughout the day to see us.

The atmosphere was fantastic and we had the support of many partners who came along to set up a display and show the public what they do. Alongside our own displays of vehicles, police dogs, the police band, a taser demonstration and more we had representatives from organisations such as Help for Heroes, the RAF, WHG, Victim Support and others.

Being accessible and having nothing more to do than wonder around and enjoy myself, I was able to spend some time meeting some of my Twitter followers who were without exception a fantastic bunch of people with whom I shared several good chats about foxes, food and more.

I was able to take many photos of the displays and demonstrations which I’ve uploaded to a full album over on my Facebook profile. To give you a taster though, the below selection are some of the better shots that give you an idea of what was on offer.

I’ve got to congratulate all of those who were involved in making the day go so smoothly including the Special Constables who gave up their free time to come in, all of the partner agencies putting on displays and also Sergeant Rowlands who made the event possible.

We had plenty of people asking when the next open day might be. I can’t say at the moment although would say that due to the huge success of today’s event, I’m hoping it’ll be soon!

The RAF helicopter lands on the station roof.

A selection of hardened criminals checking out our cells.

Testing the lights (and sirens) of one of our traffic cars.

Live taser demonstration in the station gym.

The police dog tries to take a chunk out of the dog handler's arm.

Members of the public get the chance to throw things at a police officer - they certainly made the most of the opportunity!

Bobby the Bear and the 'Bescot Bird'.

Superintendent Fraser closed the day with a singalong. Just kidding!

Click here to see the full set of photos.

I’ve seen clouds from both sides now…

A police car screams past your office building and moments later you hear the clatter of helicopter blades. Looking out your window you crane your neck to spot a yellow and blue machine hovering a few hundred meters above you. It slowly circles around the same spot as other marked police vehicles pass in the same direction, through the red lights and on into the distance.

What exactly is happening though? This is something I always wondered before joining the job and indeed something I still wonder when I’m off duty and see the force helicopter, ‘Alpha Oscar One‘, buzzing overhead.

The helicopter itself is based at Birmingham Airport and is a Eurocopter EC–135P2i. Nerdy plane spotters like me will be absolutely thrilled to know that it has a top speed of 160 mph, a range of around 400 miles, can fly for three and a half hours and reach a ceiling of 10,000 ft. Stats aside, what might it be doing when you see it floating above?

The first situation, and probably the most common, in which the helicopter is deployed is when we have a suspect pinned down in a certain area and need someone with a bird’s eye view to help us locate him or her. Commonly this will be when we’ve pursued someone and have a reasonable containment of an area so that we’re able to say to the officers on board the helicopter, “The offender is hiding somewhere inside these woods, can you tell where he is?”.

The helicopter crew can then use their cameras and thermal imaging gear to pick out the suspect and direct our units on the ground towards his position and make the arrest. The capability of the crew to use body heat to track someone down means that the cover of darkness is denied to a suspect and the helicopter has a thirty million candlepower searchlight to help illuminate large areas so that we can see where we need to head. Oddly enough the helicopter is also equipped with a siren, presumably so it can warn slower helicopters to move aside and let it past as it makes its way towards incidents. Probably…

Aside searching, the helicopter is also invaluable to tracking high speed pursuits involving our traffic units. The evidence collected by the high definition video camera can be taken to court to help secure a conviction and as the crew are tracking the progress of the chase, can instruct other resources in the right direction so that they can help including telling officers when they might want to pull out the stinger and bring the pursuit to a conclusion by puncturing the offending vehicle’s tires.

Having a video camera means that the helicopter can be useful in all sorts of situations where an aerial view of an event might prove useful. Images can be beamed live to the control room and help senior officers make decisions about how to police football matches, public demonstrations and the like.

The rear of the helicopter provides a cargo space that can be quickly adapted to transport casualties from the scene of an accident to the nearest hospital. This is particularly useful at night as some of the air ambulances are not equipped with the necessary kit to enable them to land in built up areas during the hours of darkness.

Working with the helicopter can be quite exciting as not only can we see it and know that it’s there to help us, we can also hear it on our radio channel with the sound of the engine prominent in the background when the crew speak to us. It is a great resource that we can rely on when we require it and the psychological impact alone is often enough to get the criminal to come out with his hands up, knowing that his body heat will betray him and that’s it’s pointless to try and run.

P.S. You can find out more about Alpha Oscar One by visiting their website and can also follow them on Twitter by visiting their regularly updated profile, @WMP_Helicopter. They’ve also got a Twitpic account on which they’re publishing some of the photos the crew have taken from the air.

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