The sight of a police helicopter in the Kingsbury residential area. It may not be that visible but it certainly was audible, for almost half an hour in the early hours of the night (0030 - 0100hrs) on 8 October. Scientists and residents are in agreement that rotorblade noise is not pleasant:
"From a psycho-acoustic (human perception) viewpoint, Helicopter noise is not generally perceived as a 'pleasant' noise, and has been rated as 10-15 decibels more annoying than other aircraft noise, for the same reading on a noise meter." (From Helicopter noise coalition)
Helicopter noise is a problem I have been highlighting for some years (Harrow Times letter: 'Time to chop these flights', 28 March 2008). A local questionnaire of residents conducted by Brent Greens picked up concerns parents had with children being woken up at night, to add to the anecdotal evidence. A resident recently pulled me up at a public meeting, "What's happening about all this helicopter noise? It seems to be getting worse."
A timely report in 2006 by the London Assembly environment committee, chaired by Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson, flagged up the growing problem of helicopter noise (London in a spin - a review of helicopter noise). Unfortunately, there seems to be less scrutiny over emergency services' use of helicopters, yet these are invariably able to operate at more anti-social hours and with fewer caps (commercial flights cannot take place after 11pm for example).
I would not doubt the good use to which police helicopters may be put from time to time, but I do think that there must be far greater accountability for their use, and far greater consideration of when to deploy them - on grounds of effectiveness, cost compared to police on the ground and environmental impact. We must begin with a proper public log of the incidents to which they have been called. My fear is that the public would not be impressed - and that the police have cause for embarrassment.
Real time information is very difficult to come by. I have persevered on the switchboards more than once, including last night and am now in a position to share the reason given for last night's police copter scrambling. Reason given:
"Male seen jumping over fence 00.27hrs".
And the reason to abort the search from the skies after half an hour? Quote:
"Helicopter left for refuelling."
This does not strike me as a sufficient reason in the first place to scramble a helicopter with infrared technology. Nor was the man seen jumping over fence found (maybe he heard the copter coming?). What guidance do the police have to follow? This from a police sergeant reporting on an incident in Cheshire earlier this year sounds reasonable:
“Criteria used for evaluating tasks include the risk or threat to life, the length of time since the incident has occurred, if there is a suitable description of the suspects and containment of the scene and if the deployment of the helicopter is proportional to the request." (Sgt Janet Griffiths, £1/2m cost of police helicopter, Warrington Guardian, 22 April 2011)
I question whether helicopter in pursuit of man jumping over fence was a proportionate use of police resources. Instead it would have reliably woken up many residents (perhaps disturbing as many as 10,000 people) at the end of a hard working week for many.
This kind of LA-style police-action-camera-copter-chase nonsense has to stop.