Law Enforcement helicopter units have often sought ways to improve public relations, particularly when it comes to budget crunch time. In fact many units no longer in existence wish they would have done a better job at garnering public support while the opportunity existed. Understandably, it would not have saved every unit that has been cut due to budget issues, but strong public support for your air ops unit can never be a bad thing.
Many police aviation units in the UK have been under the budget ax just like units on this side of the pond. In an effort for the public to better understand exactly what these police aviation units are doing, many in the UK have taken to tweeting about their routine calls, to include rescues, suspect searches and vehicle pursuits.
West Midlands Air Support Unit
One of the units leading the “tweeting” charge is the West Midlands Police Air Support unit who began posting updates earlier this month. In as little as 10 days the unit had more than 500 followers and had posted over 100 messages on their Twitter Account.
West Midlands Air Support Unit Sgt. Dave Mitchell states that it gives the public and taxpayers insight into what the unit does and how their tax money is being spent. He goes on to point out something that anyone who has ever been a member of a police air unit knows, that the crew members of law enforcement helicopters have very little public contact during normal operations.
Think of it this way; Most law enforcement air units are located at secure airport facilities where the public there is little to no access. Most police air unit members show up on calls at 500’ agl, and leave the scene at the same altitude. Even when the helicopter lands and makes contact such as in a rescue situation, the helicopter noise along with the air crew’s helmets with face shields often prevent the victim from knowing the names of their rescuers, or even what they look like. It would seem that giving the public a way to interact with law enforcement air crews would have a net positive result.
In the case of West Midlands Police, who fly a Eurocopter EC-135 worth about $5 million, Sgt. Mitchell believes that it is not only important to provide the public with more information, but also a way for the public to provide feedback. Twitter helps to do both of these. Lastly, Sgt. Mitchell points out that all Twitter updates are done after the crew lands, and the helicopter is shut down. No Tweeting from the cockpits of police helicopters.
South Yorkshire Police Helicopter Unit
Another UK police helicopter unit tweeting about their work is the South Yorkshire Police Helicopter Unit. According to Sgt. Helen Scothern- Head of the South Yorkshire Police Air Ops Unit, most people associate the helicopter only with car chases and criminals on the run, but just as important is the role the helicopter plays in curbing anti-social behavior and intelligence gathering. The South Yorkshire Police Air Unit covers Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster. Last year the unit flew for around 1200 hours and responded to over 5,000 calls or events.
East Midlands Air Support Unit
The East Midlands Air Support Unit is also getting in on the tweeting action. Patrolling Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire from their MD902 and EC 135 (based out of Shoreham Airport & RAF Odiham respectively) the crew of East Midlands Air Support recently tweeted; ” Lutterworth waste recycling centre: Report of crime in progress – burglary.”
A quick search of Twitter revealed a total of at least 7 UK police helicopter units currently tweeting about their patrol activities. Here are the units I found along with their Twitter address;
West Midlands Police Air Support- @WMP_Helicopter
South Yorkshire Police Air Ops Unit- @SYP_Airops
East Midlands Air Ops Unit- @EMASUHelicopter
Cheshire Police Helicopter Unit- @Cheshirecopter
Kent and Essex Police Helicopter- @QH99
South & East Whales Air Support- @Helicops
Wiltshire Joint Police & Ambulance Helicopter- @Wiltsairambo
During the same Twitter search I was unable to locate even a single Police or Sheriff’s Unit in the U.S. where the actual crews are posting their activities to Twitter.
Since most U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies have embraced social networking on some level, even if it is only to post traffic conditions, or missing persons at risk, I predict that it is only a matter of time before we see police air units in the U.S. using Twitter as a way to connect with the public about their law enforcement activities.
Sources: The Coventry Telegraph; BBC News; Twitter.com