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Opinions of Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Columnist: Adjekum, Odadie Kwasi Okatakyie

Towards a Viable Ghana Police Service Aviation Unit

. – An Analytical Perspective.

Introduction

The Ghana Police Service is tasked with internal security and law enforcement in Ghana and in recent times, there has been a clarion call to reform and resource the service, to be abreast with modern internationally acceptable standards in policing and law enforcement. With the sophistication of crimes and upsurge in violent crimes in recent crimes, the police service has been found wanting and come under criticisms from all angles of society for being inept and lacking pro activity in curbing such violent crimes like armed robbery, communal violence,chieftancy issues ,activities of land guards, illegal mining and forestry activities

Another area of concern has been highways and traffic monitoring and protection, accident / emergency and critical incident response. The level of liaison with other law enforcement agencies and national security entities has not been fluid and cohesive. It is however enlightening to know that in recent times the Ghana Police Service has had a marine unit inaugurated at Takoradi to police our coastal waters and aid maritime service providers, as and when required. They will seek to augment the efforts of the Ghana Navy, which is tasked with the bigger responsibility of ensuring the safety, security and sovereignty of our maritime exclusive zone. There has also been an airborne rapid deployment special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team to assist in counter-terrorist and insurgent situations.

It is the light of all these that there is the need to think about having in place an organic and self sustaining airborne law enforcement unit of the Ghana Police Service. The level of sophistication of recent violent crimes and the trans-border/international collaboration of these criminals, warrant a drastic and rapid response in the face of such crime. One of the expeditious and tactical means of law enforcement response is through airborne assets like the helicopter and recently unmanned drones. In Ghana, the helicopter will be the most feasible.

A Generic Ghana Police Aviation Unit Missions

Initially investment can be made into simple and cost effective airborne platforms, which will meet requirements for day time operations and roles. Later as the operations become mature and more established a shift into more complex platforms for instrument and night time missions. The missions tasked to an airborne police aviation unit can be numerous. Using helicopters, The Ghana Police Service airborne units can perform routine patrols, surveillance missions, search and rescue, counter-terrorism patrols, searches, VIP transports, Highway patrols, vehicle pursuits, command and control for emergency situations.

Advantages of Air-Borne Units

The unique capability of an airborne asset like the helicopter combined with the latest in technology, can produced a powerful and effective crime buster and ensure security. An example of a modern heli-borne asset like the Eurocopter AS 350B3 AStars is equipped with the latest in aviation technology, such as glass cockpits, heads-up displays, and Gyro-cam dual sensors, Nightsun searchlights, advanced navigation systems. It has a range of about 660km, speed of 245 km/h and a crew of one pilot and 4 other occupants. Fully fuelled, it can stay airborne for almost 4hours. Add the latest in law enforcement technology, such as night vision goggles, forward-looking infrared (FLIR), microwave down linking and hoist capability, will provide the Ghana Police Service with a very capable and effective crime-fighting weapon.

Airborne Command and Control

The airborne unit is a force multiplier in carrying out tactical operations like searches safely and effectively. It provides airborne cover, command and control for ground police deployment, vehicle pursuits, and searches of perpetrators/criminals on the run in the forest and built up areas. A SWAT commander can get an excellent view of an operational area in real time both before and during the actual tactical operation. For example, when a heliborne unit takes over a vehicle pursuit, it is unsurpassed in safety and efficiency. It allows ground units can follow safely at reduced speed and can simply maintain a loose perimeter while the airborne unit follows the vehicle. This can prevent accidents due to high speed chase leading to loss of police personnel and bystanders.

Crowd Control and Disaster Response

The airborne unit can be used in crowd control and surveillance, real-time video down linking and photo missions. The airborne unit can also provide a very visible and deterrent posture, which will prevent people with intent on engaging in nefarious and criminal activities to think twice. Police commanders can watch events such as parades, demonstrations and other public gatherings from their command and control centres, adjusting and adapting to actual conditions. In search and rescue missions or the aftermath of a major disaster, it can be used to assist the National Disaster Management Agency to provide real time early disaster response. Lost or injured persons can be located quickly and if need be, hoisted to safety and removed for emergency medical treatment.
The Challenges of Managing a Police Aviation Unit
Cost and Operational Safety
Aviation is expensive and technically demanding. There is truly no way to cut corners or reduce costs without compromising safety. In addition, training of both operational personnel like pilots and airborne tactical observers is intensive and complex and requires a large commitment from the Service. Helicopter Maintenance has to be top notch and overall it requires an excellent safety culture. In Ghana, where maintenance of public property has always been a perennial challenge, it will take a lot of discipline and professionalism on the part of the Ghana Police leadership to ensure a very high standard of operational safety and tactical readiness.

Operational Deployment and support

One of the main challenges of an aviation unit will be to maximize its effect within the entire operational area of deployed Police Service, with the limited initial aviation resources. An extensive deployment to cover all the operations area of the police will also require pre-positioning of maintenance and logistics support like fuel/lubricants and oil. Landing zones and pads will have to be prepared and local police personnel trained to acts as safety marshallers. There would be need for fire cover at certain locations and also adequate security for helicopters deployed out on field missions.

Potential Personnel Abuse and Perception of Political Intimidation
Another challenge worth noting is the propensity for misuse of such units and perceived use for ‘political’ intimidation by political appointees. Due to the high cost of operation, it will be disingenuous and imprudent to use the airborne units indiscriminately and not in support of tactical operations. Leisure/personal use by top police officials and operational personnel will surely be inimical to the success of such a program. The possibility of use by politicians to use airborne assets to ‘intimidate’ and stifle any form of ‘dissent’ by political opponents through surveillance and other forms of airborne psychological operations cannot be ruled out. These can quickly erode public confidence in the viability of such units.

Recommendations
Command and Control

The good news is that for a fledgling police aviation unit to be feasible, the unit and assets can be co-located and synergized with that of the Ghana Air force both for hangar space, maintenance and technical support. Even the initial crew support, training effort and fleet selection can be done in liaison with the Ghana Air force, which has a lot of aviation experience and resources at its disposal. Retired Air force helicopter pilot instructors and non- essential personnel can be seconded to the police aviation unit, on adhoc and periodic basis based on a memorandum of understanding between the Interior and Defence ministries. The strategic command and operational command of any Ghana Police airborne unit should reside with the Ghana Police Service. With time and after extensive operational experience, the Ghana Police Service should be able to wean itself and operate as a separate entity.

Operational Cost

The operational cost and maintenance servicing done by the Ghana Air force on Ghana Police heliborne assets will of course be borne by the Ghana Police Service, while duty allowances shall be paid to the seconded Ghana Air force Helicopter pilots, who will continue to be remunerated by the Ministry of Defence. The Ghana Police will however have to pay for the services of retired military flight instructors. The Ghana Police Service will have to plan on recruiting police pilot officer candidates who will be trained to become pilots and airborne tactical officers.

Training

Candidates to become pilots should be selected from officer candidates of the Ghana Police Academy and must include passing stringent requirements for qualification both as a police officer and a pilot with Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) license. This will also call for the requisite aviation medical requirements. Police pilot candidates should be both technically qualified and have a high culture of safety. Police officer candidates who successfully go through a well designed course of instruction and attain GCAA private and commercial pilot certification can be commissioned into the aviation unit. Allowances can also be made to enlist already qualified private and commercial pilots who are ready to go through the police officer training. The last option is most viable and cost effective, as it transfer the high cost of training pilots to the interested individual.

Operational Deployment and Support

On a pilot basis, the initial aviation unit may be started with the capital city of Accra with periodic field assistance missions to Kumasi, Sunyani, Tamale and Takoradi. These are areas with adequate aviation infrastructure like an airport to support these heliborne units. With time and extensive experience, there can be total coverage of the whole country, with zonal aviation units, comprising of Greater Accra as a zone, Central and Western forming a Zone, Volta and Eastern another zone, Brong Ahafo and Ashanti another zone, The Northern, Upper East and Upper West in the same aviation coverage zone.

As the program evolves and with continuous review and monitoring, it could be extended, with every regional capital in Ghana having at least one airborne unit for rapid operational deployment. A well resourced, properly trained and properly managed police airborne unit will make a huge difference in meeting Ghana’s law enforcement objectives, missions and goals.

Odadie Kwasi Okatakyie Adjekum

Aviation Safety Consultant

kadjekum@yahoo.com