Fighting for our 'copter; Chairman in battle to save service.
THE chairman of Cleveland Police Authority pledged today to fight tooth and nail to save the police helicopter based on Teesside.
The joint North East Air Support Unit, which costs pounds 700,000 a year to run, has two helicopters serving Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria police force areas, based at Durham Tees Valley and Newcastle airports.
Under plans believed to have the support of Northumbria Police and Durham Constabulary, the service could be downgraded to one helicopter based at Newcastle.
Speaking before today's meeting on the future of the services Councillor Dave McLuckie, pictured, said the proposal was unacceptable He said: "We are especially astounded that this proposal should have come forward when just four years ago our colleagues in Durham and Northumbria argued that it was vital that we disposed of a fixed wing aircraft and replaced it with a second helicopter.
"At that time we were facing significant financial problems, but agreed to contribute almost half a million pounds because of the increasingly important role being performed by air support. It is without doubt one of our most valuable assets in tackling crime and responding to incidents - in some circumstances it can be 40 times more efficient than deploying officers on the ground.
"We do not believe that there has been any proper operational case made out for the suggestion of moving to just one aircraft.
"One cannot help but wonder if one of the reasons really driving this proposal is that the aircraft based at Newcastle is not as well equipped as the southern-based aircraft and new regulations could limit its ability to operate at night from 2010.
"We understand that is an issue which should be considered, but it cannot be a justification for switching the better-equipped helicopter to Newcastle and undermining the level of service available for Cleveland - especially when our use of the service is increasing."
He said that between April 2007 and January 2008 the tasks undertaken in the Cleveland area rose by 11.6% compared to the previous 12 months, while in both Durham and Northumbria they fell by about 5%.