South Wales ‘helicops’ police twitter account could be axed

 Chris McSweeney reports on the police helicopter Twitter account that is under threat.

Ever been woken up by a Police Helicopter? Ever wondered why the sky cops are hovering over Cardiff each night? Thankfully you can find out, as the South and East Wales Police Helicopter now has its own Twitter account. The South Wales Police PR department will be delighted they acquired the username “@helicops”.

The Twitter account publishes details of every flight, where they are flying, which crimes they are tackling, and even frequently replies to public requests and complaints. One recent tweet, in response to a member of the public stated; “@wocko101 – Sorry hope we didn’t disturb you too much.”

The account was launched in September of 2011 and has so far posted nearly five and a half thousand tweets, and attracted over 10,000 followers. This has been exceptionally successful for police-public relations, as the Twitter Feed helps keep the public informed in real time, and creates a meaningful connection. This could prove to be important, as public perception of Police Air Support may contribute to overall support of the police following the PCC elections.

Police helicopter services nationwide need all the help they can get, given that some regional services cost taxpayers up to £2.5m a year, and have frequently been in the firing range of Cameron and Osbourne’s austerity cuts. Dyfed-Powis Police have recently been campaigning to save their helicopter service from being centralised by the National Police Air Sevice (NPAS), in a move that would leave 23 helicopters to be shared between 43 police services across England and Wales, thereby significantly stretching the workload of the South Wales Police Helicopter. This costs the taxpayer £815 per flight hour, and up to £7000 a day in some areas. However, the police air service might well be worth the cost to the public purse, given the crucial work that they carry out.

Another threat to the ‘helicops’ is the closing of police twitter accounts because of social media ‘mistakes.’ This could be a potentially detrimental move as it risks making the police look out of touch and heavy handed. The sense of realness of our police officers has succeeded in engaging with the public, and the 10,000 followers prove that this move has been highly successful.

Chris McSweeney