UK’s first operational police drone unit launches in the South West

Devon and Cornwall and Dorset Police have become the first police forces in the UK to launch a fully operational drone unit.

The latest in drone technology has been trialled in the respective forces since November 2015 and such has been their benefit, an operational drone unit has been created – the first of its kind in the UK.

Chief Superintendent Jim Nye, Commander for the Alliance Operations Department, said, “This is an historic step for the Alliance and policing in the UK; drone capability is a cutting edge way to support operational policing across Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. This technology offers a highly cost effective approach in supporting our officers on the ground in operational policing. Drones will aid officers as part of missing person searches; crime scene photography; responding to major road traffic collisions; coastal and woodland searches and to combat wildlife crime. Drones can even help police track and monitor suspects during a firearm or terrorist incident, as it will allow officers to gain vital information, quickly, safely, and allow us to respond effectively at the scene.”

The Drone Unit is currently using a DJI Inspire drone equipped with a zoom camera and a thermal imaging camera to allow for operational use 24 hours a day. The camera is HD/4K quality and can capture both video and still images. A smaller DJI Mavic has also been acquired to test its portability as it is smaller and lighter in weight.

Six drones are in operational use, based in Plymouth and Dorset. In the coming months, drones will be in roads policing vehicles across Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, offering on the move, 24/7 support to operational policing across the Alliance.

Chief Supt Nye, continued, “At present we have five officers trained across both forces. Over the next 12 months we are aiming to have a further 40 officers having completed their Civil Aviation (CAA) training, allow them to be fully accredited and enable them to operate the drone. We will also be adding to the number of drones we have as the number of trained officer’s increases.”

Norfolk Police has launched its own three-month drone trial. The force will be using drones to help search for missing people, obtain crime scene photography and investigate rural crime. There are currently four trained drone operators within the force and this will be extended if the trial is successful.

Deputy Chief Constable Nick Dean said, “Drones offer many benefits that complement the National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter. This technology offers a highly cost effective approach to help assist our officers. While the technology still has its limitations, the option of launching a drone in the air in a few minutes could help save lives and secure evidence if a crime was in progress.”