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EYE IN THE SKY; Helicopter works night and day CONLON on crime.

Byline: Russ Conlon

EVERYONE sees the West Yorkshire Police helicopter buzzing around now and then - and I thought I'd share with you an unusual job when the helicopter played a crucial role.

It was a blackmail case which originated in Essex and was run by the National Crime Squad.

The suspect was blackmailing a large company, demanding pounds 5,000 not to contaminate their products.

Money was taken by courier to various locations in both West and North Yorkshire - and 130 officers were involved in trying to catch the culprit.

The final location for the money drop in North Yorkshire was switched at the last moment which meant most of the officers were in the wrong place.

The money was dropped off in a new location by the courier andwas then taken by the suspect who was wearing night vision goggles.

He escaped into the total darkness - but had never thought about the helicopter's heatseeking night vision.

The helicopter hovered overhead and found the suspect hiding in nearby fields within five minutes.

He was arrested, the money recovered and the man is now in prison.

The first West Yorkshire Police Air Support Unit helicopter took to the skies in December 1989.

This Messerschmitt Bolkow Blohm B0105 DBS4 was used until 2001, clocking up more than 11,000 hours.

It was replaced by the American-made MD902 Explorer helicopter which has already done more than 9,000 flying hours and is one of the most advanced police helicopters in the country.

Since 1989 the helicopters have attended more than 55,000 tasks and can reach anywhere in West Yorkshire within 12 minutes.

The Air Operations Unit has a team of two sergeants and 12 constables who are all trained air observers. A duty crew consists of a pilot and two police air observers.

There are four pilots and an engineering support team supplied on contract by specialist companies.

On average the unit flies 1,400 hours per year and attends between 3,000 and 4,000 jobs.

The helicopter has been involved in pursuits, chasing robbers, taking aerial photos of crime scenes, searching for missing people, monitoring riots, overseeing major disasters and hovering over road accidents to see the scale of traffic chaos in the area.

Its equipment includes a loudhailer, cameras, video equipment, night vision cameras, binoculars, a powerful searchlight and a tracker unit for stolen vehicles.

Its camera has 54 times magnification.

In short, if you're a criminal with the helicopter hovering above you then you're going to get caught.

Detective Constable Russ Conlon serves with Kirklees Police. If you have any info on crime, ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or Huddersfield police on 01484 436659


AIR SUPPORT: West Yorkshire Police's helicopter ready for take-off (above) and (left) able to reach anywhere in West Yorkshire in under 12 minutes (s)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 3, 2008
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