Dyfed-Powys Police has been revealed as having the second-slowest helicopter response times in all of England and Wales.
A new report on the National Police Air Service (NPAS) found that air support to police incidents in this area takes more than 57 minutes to arrive.
The other three police forces in Wales recorded average response times of between 28 and 37 minutes, according to the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
The Dyfed-Powys Police helicopter was sold in 2015 by the former Police and Crime Commissioner, when the force joined NPAS.
NPAS provides air support to police forces across the country, with those serving Dyfed-Powys coming from air bases outside the force area.
The force contributed £891,000 for 349 hours of air support from NPAS in the last year – the highest amount, as a percentage of net revenue, paid by any police force in the country.
The arrangement means Dyfed-Powys was able to access 24/7 air support for the first time, and Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said being a member of NPAS had made air support more affordable to the force.
But it has also led to a 50 per cent reduction in the number of helicopters dispatched, which Mr Llywelyn put down to a more consistent approach to which incidents require air support.
He said: “The HMICFRS report on the provision of police air support clearly demonstrates that Dyfed-Powys Police has benefited financially from the efficiencies of being a partner in this national service.
“There is a reduction in the cost of police air support available across the Dyfed-Powys Police area alongside the ability to access a 24/7 service, a capability not available to us prior to the new arrangements.
“It is important to note that the deployment of resources is now consistently based on an agreed threat, risk and harm assessment.
“As a result of this new assessment criteria the use of the helicopter has reduced within the Dyfed-Powys area.
“As an NPAS strategic board member I ensure that rural police forces such as Dyfed-Powys are not forgotten and during my time on the board we have seen significant financial savings being realised for Dyfed-Powys Police.
“The board has also been assured that the new fixed wing capability will be distributed more widely than initially proposed and a fixed wing asset will be available in Wales in due course to compliment the helicopter.”
The damning report describes NPAS as “financially unsustainable” in its current form, and calls for a “fundamental reform” of the service if it is to provide effective air support.
It highlights the vast range of response times between forces – from 10-and-a-half minutes to over an hour – and the fact that across the country, 43 per cent of aircraft dispatched in 2016 were called off mid-air before arriving on scene.
Following the report’s publication last week, Dyfed-Powys Police said it was hoping to see increased air support in the future.
A spokesperson said: “Dyfed-Powys Police is provided with an air support service from NPAS as part of the national collaboration, before which we had our own helicopter which was undoubtedly a more limited capability.
“The effectiveness of the service now provided by NPAS is regularly reviewed by senior leaders from Dyfed-Powys Police in conjunction with representatives from NPAS and the outcomes from these reviews are used to influence the service provided by NPAS.
“This is a valuable operational resource for us as a rural area, and we will continue to work with NPAS colleagues to get the best service for our communities using this valuable asset when circumstances are appropriate, and this will include seeking greater coverage from future developments.”
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