How do I find out why there were police helicopters in my area?

Image by West Midlands Police; Flickr.

Hearing the roar of a police helicopter flying over your home can be unnerving. Has there been a serious car accident, a lost child, or are police chasing a suspect? Use some common resources to find out.

Incident log

Police incident reports are generally public record, but the way a police station disseminates public information varies from force to force and even by department. Most information needs to be approved by a supervisor before it's released to the public, and if the helicopter search was part of an ongoing investigation, police may not release the information immediately.

Call and ask

Call and ask -- but don't call 999 -- that's strictly for emergencies. Most police forces have a non-emergency phone number posted on their website. An Internet quick search should get you the number. Once you're connected, ask to speak to the duty sergeant. Identify yourself as a member of the public who has a question about an incident near your home. Outside office hours and at weekends, most police forces will automatically transfer your call to a duty officer. You may have to leave a message and wait to be called back.

Press power

A good way to find out what the police are doing in your neighbourhood is to call a local newsroom. Every newspaper and many television stations have at least one staffer monitoring police incidents. If the police have called in the choppers, it's likely an incident that reporters have been monitoring. If not, they'll be interested and will probably thank you for tipping them off about a big story. Find the phone number for the newsroom on the Internet or in the newspaper (usually on the inside front page) and ask for a crime reporter or the news desk.

Your rights

You have a right to know what police are doing in your area, providing releasing the information doesn't prejudice criminal proceedings. If the police don't tell you and the media isn't able to answer your questions, you may have to submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act. This could take time, however, so try calling the police and the newsroom again..