The Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit (ASU) has been providing cover to London for almost 25 years.
The unit has three Eurocopter EC145, which are the first aircraft of their type to be used by any UK air support unit, although they are already widely used in Europe.
The team is made up of 18 police constables, three police sergeants and is supervised on a local level by a police inspector.
It also employs police staff including pilots, operations room staff, engineers and an intelligence officer.
Each aircraft is crewed by a pilot and two police officers, called observers.
Each observer has a different role in the aircraft, and between them and the pilot, an effective level of support is provided to police ground units.
Julia Kennard finds out more about the Met’s high-flying crime fighters…
Fighting crime from 10,000 feet is a job London’s Met police helicopter crew never grow tired of.
“For me it is the most exciting and interesting job you can do”, says Sergeant Richard Brandon, 42, originally from Durham.
“Very few people get to see London from the skies everyday and get paid for it.”
The team, based at Lippitts Hill, Loughton, have covered every major public event in the capital from escorting Diana’s funeral cortege, to assisting ground crews in the 7/7 bombings, to capturing live footage at the recent student protests.
But despite playing a key role in history, the team get more reward from tasks that tap into a more basic human instinct.
“There is nothing more satisfying that finding a criminal in someone’s back garden, who might else have got away with it,” says Sgt Brandon.
Captain Lee Tooze added: “It’s finding missing people that is a real boost.
“Nine out of ten times we won’t find anything, but when we do – like a finding a missing three year old who might otherwise have died from hypothermia – it’s very rewarding.”
Most of the team’s work is spent using their powerful cameras, thermal imaging and searchlights to search for suspects or missing people, pursue vehicles, track armed suspects, help keep public order and counter-terrorism.
At Christmas and New Year the team are unfortunately called to an increased amount of suicides.
But whatever the job the team can be scrambled into action within seconds, arriving anywhere in London within 15 minutes – Sutton takes just ten minutes and Kingston 12 minutes.
Inside the helicopter the police officers work with teams on the ground to relay vital 360 degree information on a large crime scene within seconds.
But it is the pilots, who often have RAF or Royal Navy backgrounds, who have to deal with the delicate task of negotiating tower blocks while listening to six radio stations and various instructions.
Pilot Gary Sweeting says: “It’s real pat your head and rub your stomach business. You have to be very on the ball. ”
“I put my life in his hands whenever we go out,” says PC Gould.
One of the main factors preventing the team from doing their job is the weather: a severely foggy day can ground the crew due to poor visibility.
But it is humans who can pose the most threat to their safety.
PC Chris Gould says laser pens, which are often used by teenagers who don’t realise their dangerous consequences, can ruin a pilot’s night vision.
She says: “If a laser pen is shone at a helicopter it can be really dazzling. It could blind the pilot momentarily.”
As Insp Andy Brittain, of Sutton Police, explains : “We will always take a robust approach to anyone using laser lights in a dangerous way – and people will be prosecuted for doing so.”
Overall there 32,532 police officers in the Met of which 21 are in the air support unit.
That makes for a close-knit team who are always watching each others back.
But despite the team’s solidarity and the privilege of flying over London everyday, it is fighting crime that keeps the crew happy in their job.
As PC Terry White says: “I’m still a police officer catching the bad guys.”
Croydon: In Croydon on November 7, the air team helped local police arrest two people believed to be involved in a burglary. The helicopter team contained the premises so that ground units could move in and make the arrests.
Sutton: In Sutton on October 24, the air team helped local police who were hunting for a person believed to be hiding in back gardens.
The helicopter crew located the person and directed officers so an arrest could be made.
Earlier in the year while police helicopter – India 99 – was hovering over St Helier Hospital on a call about a potential suicide, the aircrew became a target of a green laser light being shone from the ground near the hospital.
Officers on the ground were directed by the helicopter to the skateboard park near the hospital and much a 16-year-old male was arrested for endangering the safety of an aircraft.
He was later bailed for two weeks to attend a youth restorative justice clinic.
Kingston: In Kingston on November 9, the air team helped local police hunt for a person wanted over a burglary and believed to be hiding in back gardens.
The person was located by the helicopter crew and caught by officers on the ground. The helicopter crew were also used in the Madingley tower block blaze on July 12, which left 100 people homeless.
Richmond: On November 9, the air team helped local police find a suspected criminal in Richmond Park.
The people were located by the helicopter crew who also helped direct officers on the ground so arrests could be made.
Merton: In Merton on November 24, the air team helped local police hunt for a person believed to be involved in an armed robbery.
The helicopter crew enabled the officers on the ground to arrest the person.
Wandsworth: In Wandsworth on November 10, the air support team helped local police hunt for a person believed to be involved in a burglary.
The helicopter crew located the person on a roof and directed officers on the ground so an arrest could be made.
Hammersmith and Fulham: In Hammersmith and Fulham on October 24, the air support team helped local police search for an injured person after a car was found in a river.
GD Star Rating