Eye in the sky - police expand drone fleet after 1,500 operations in a year

Norfolk police drone being flown

Norfolk Constabulary used drones 1,500 times in 2020/21. - Credit: Archant

Police used an eye in the sky 1,500 times in Norfolk last year for everything from spotting cannabis farms to finding missing people. 

Drones were also deployed to catch burglars, fly over firearms incidents and to monitor illegal camps and unlicensed music gatherings.

Drone pilot Sergeant Danny Leach

Police drones were used to catch burglars, fly over firearms incidents and to monitor illegal camps and unlicensed music gatherings. - Credit: Archant

Earlier this year Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner Giles Orpen-Smellie said he was keen to see aviation rules changed so drones can be used more widely.

He said he hoped police forces might be permitted to operate drones beyond the current 'line of sight' regulations.

At the moment, under civil aviation authority rules, the police's drone operators must be able to see the machine they are controlling.

Norfolk Constabulary unveil their new police drone. Police drone pilot Sgt Danny Leach. Picture : AN

Norfolk police is expanding its fleet of drones. - Credit: Archant

Data in his annual report has now revealed that Norfolk police used his drone fleet 329 times for pre-planned operations in 2020/2021, while there were 1,226 flights responding to incidents and ongoing crimes.

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“The deployment figures represent further increases over the past 12 months with significant demand for missing persons and supporting specialist teams investigating crime,” said Mr Orpen-Smellie.

“One new area of work has been the introduction of new technology that enables 3D modelling of crime scenes to support serious and major crime investigation.”

Norfolk's newly-elected Police and Crome Commissioner, Gile Orpen-Smellie is officially sworn into t

Norfolk Police and Crome Commissioner, Giles Orpen-Smellie.  - Credit: Sonya Duncan

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Norfolk police currently has 22 fully trained drone operators and 20 drones, although eight of those are only used for training.

The success of drones has already seen Norfolk expand its fleet to include a device capable of flying indoors and a fixed wing drone that will significantly increase the time and range of flight.

Figures for use of drones between January and June 2020 show there were 23 flights to trace people fleeing cars that had failed to stop, 19 related to burglaries, 17 for firearms incidents, 16 over wildlife crimes, nine to monitor unlicensed music raves and six for unauthorised encampments.

Norfolk Police are cracking down on hare coursing. Picture: Ian Burt

Drones were used to help in the search for missing people 80 times. - Credit: Archant

They were used 80 times to help trace missing and vulnerable people. 

One incident highlighted was an elderly male with Parkinson’s disease, classed as high risk, who had gone out for a walk unprepared for the weather and without his phone. 

A drone operator guided officers on the ground to the man who was found tangled in barbed wire, cold and falling in and out of consciousness.

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