Criminals, thugs and soccer hooligans beware.

No matter where you are, what time of day or night it is, Big Brother will be watching you.

This was the message by police during the handover of two of the first six state-of-the-art surveillance helicopters handed over to the SAPS by Armscor in Pretoria on Wednesday.

Armscor facilitated the purchase of the helicopters by SAPS from the National Aircraft Company.

The six three-man Robinson R44 Raven II helicopters, which cost R5-million each, will see the amount of time it takes to train police helicopter pilots being reduced from the usual four years to two and a half years.

They will be used as a force multiplier, giving law enforcers the ability to be at crime scenes fast, especially during the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup.

Armed with specialised equipment such as infrared imaging systems, searchlights, monitors and special radio systems, the helicopters are specifically designed to help police forces around the world deal criminals a severe blow.

The SAPS currently operates 31 helicopters, and the number is expected to rise above 40 with the anticipated handover of at least five BK117 helicopters from the South African National Defence Force sometime early next year.

The helicopters, which began operating yesterday, were unveiled to newly-appointed Safety and Security Minister, Nathi Mthethwa, and his deputy, Susan Shabangu at the SAPS Air Wing in Pretoria West.

Speaking at the handover, Mthethwa said the new equipment would go a long way in helping curb crime, both before, during and after the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

“This is an important and vital weapon in the war against crime,” he said.

Mthethwa said the helicopters would be the eyes and ears of the police. It would help them to see exactly what was happening on the ground and enhance their ability to direct ground forces to where they were specifically needed.

Visible Policing Divisional Commissioner Arno Lamoer, under whose command the Air Wing falls, said the helicopters were vital in the fight against crime.

“Because of these new additions to our fleet, we will be able to train our new pilots at a quicker rate, reducing the training period by 18 months.

“Added to this is the cost of the helicopters which is nearly a fifth of the cost of the BO105 ‘Squirrel’ helicopters currently in use in the police service.

“These helicopters will provide useful aerial support to our ground forces and will be used to dominate those areas affected by crimes such as hijackings and house and business robberies,” he said.

He said the new helicopters would be based in Pretoria for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and would be dispatched to areas such as host cities when they were needed.

PUBLICATION: Pretoria News (Page 2)
AUTHOR: Graeme Hosken
DATED: 16th October 2008