Oslo Police Chief Anstein Gjengedal, who’s been a target of criticism over slow police response to the July 22 massacre on the island of Utøya, now acknowledges that his department’s sole helicopter should be ready for service at all times. He’s won full support from state police director Øystein Mæland for a request that the police get a second helicopter, to ensure round-the-clock availability.
Gjengedal told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday that he wants to avoid having helicopter coverage unavailable, as it was in July. It was Gjengedal who had felt compelled to take the helicopter out of service during the normally quiet summer holiday month, to save money.
“We think it’s best that we have two helicopters, so we can have 24-hour continuous staffing,” he told Aftenposten. “We have proposed this, but it’s a question that will be decided at the political level.”
He admitted that both he, those working in the police helicopter service and police staff in Oslo “would rather have seen that the police helicopter was in the air earlier on July 22.” Instead, the helicopter crew had been told to take summer holiday and the aircraft was grounded when confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik bombed government headquarters and then drove towards Utøya, sailed out to the island and started shooting. His attacks left eight persons dead in Oslo and killed 69 on the island.
It wasn’t until nearly an hour after Breivik had been arrested that the helicopter crew was called to duty. Another two hours passed before the helicopter was in the air. Speculation and debate have swirled in the weeks since over how Breivik might have been stopped sooner, and lives saved, if the helicopter had been available.
Justice Minister Knut Storberget has declined to comment on the criticism and speculation, noting that a specially appointed commission is investigating all aspects of the emergency response to the terrorist attacks. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg recently told TV2, however, that the next state budget will secure “good capacity” for the helicopter service. And Gjengedal also has support from his boss, the state police director Mæland.
“We would gladly have had the helicopter in the air much more quickly,” Mæland told Aftenposten. “We wish we could have used it as an observation platform.” The Justice Ministry, in charge of the police in Norway, has asked the police to detail their needs and Mæland seems confident funding will be provided for improved helicopter service in the 2012 state budget.
The existing police helicopter has sophisticated equipment that can allow police, for example, to read a license plate number from a distance of three kilometers and a height of 1,500 meters.
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