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Police to start using drones in fight against crime in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 09:49 02 August 2017 | UPDATED: 13:59 02 August 2017

Norfolk Constabulary unveil their new police drone. Left to right, PCC Lorne Green, police drone pilot Sgt Danny Leach and deputy chief constable Nick Dean. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Norfolk Constabulary unveil their new police drone. Left to right, PCC Lorne Green, police drone pilot Sgt Danny Leach and deputy chief constable Nick Dean. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

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The fight against crime is looking up in Norfolk - after police announced the introduction of aerial drones.

Norfolk Constabulary unveil their new police drone. Picture : ANTONY KELLYNorfolk Constabulary unveil their new police drone. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

The force will launch a three-month trial period, using the drones to investigate rural crime, monitor demonstrations and search for missing people.

Armed with a high-resolution camera, they can be launched within minutes from almost any location. Live aerial footage is then linked to an officer on the ground and the police control room.

Deputy chief constable Nick Dean said: “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.

“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.”

However, he added that it was still a “long way off” until drones become standard kit in a police car.

Police said the cost of training four drone pilots and purchasing two unmanned aerial systems (UAS) cost less than £8,000.

Should the trial be successful, the number of operators and drones is likely to increase.

The equipment can fly in winds of up to 50mph and stay in the air for 20 minutes before a battery change is needed.

Norfolk Constabulary unveil their new police drone. Police drone pilot Sgt Danny Leach. Picture : ANTONY KELLYNorfolk Constabulary unveil their new police drone. Police drone pilot Sgt Danny Leach. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

But a number of batteries will be carried with each drone allowing it be kept operational for a prolonged period of time.

Police said the technology has already been used during incidents across Norfolk, including forensic photography at an industrial incident, firearms incidents and searches.

The two drones, a £1,500 Inspire and £850 Mavic, feature a high-resolution video link.

Sgt Danny Leach, who was the first officer to be trained, said: “Every incident which requires air support currently costs the constabulary £1,320. Although the drones aren’t suitable for every deployment there are certain situations which they are perfect for.

Norfolk Constabulary unveil their new police drone. Police drone pilot Sgt Danny Leach. Picture : ANTONY KELLYNorfolk Constabulary unveil their new police drone. Police drone pilot Sgt Danny Leach. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

“To get the overall project operational it has cost less than £8,000 giving the constabulary the capability of two operational drones and four qualified pilots.

“If we can successfully deploy to just six incidents we would have saved enough money to pay for them again.”

Privacy and safety

The idea of drones flying around the county’s skies will no doubt have some people concerned about privacy issues.

But police and crime commissioner Lorne Green has assured the public that the equipment will not be used for general surveillance.

However, a drone could be used to monitor a public event, such as a demonstration.

“These are operation-led and used for specific incidents,” he said.

“They will not be used be in use for general surveillance.”

Deputy chief constable Nick Dean said there was strict legislation around surveillance.

He said when they are in use, officers will be required to put up a sign to tell the public what is happening.

Meanwhile, in regard to safety Sgt Danny Leach said drones cannot be flown within 100m of an open air assembly of more than 1,000 people.

It is also programmed to return to its operator before its battery runs out.

Fire service to also benefit from drones

Deputy chief constable Nick Dean said police would not be the only service using drone technology.

Norfolk’s fire service is also due to start using the equipment to help with everything from crashes to fires.

But unlike the police drone, he said the fire service’s version was likely to have a thermal imaging camera.

He said both drones would be under one operating licence in order to cut costs, and any additional equipment would be compatible for either of the service’s drones. Norfolk police and crime commissioner Lorne Green said he hoped more drones would be rolled out across Norfolk in the coming years.

He said: “Whether we want drones or not, they are here to stay. We already know they can be effective and we now hope they will prove their worth.”

Mr Green said evidence collected through drone footage could help officers deal with cases more quickly and in turn allow them to spend more time patrolling the streets.

Which other forces are using drones?

The first dedicated police drone unit in the UK was launched by Devon and Cornwall Police earlier in July 2017.

The force began testing drones in 2015, but established a permanent unit this year with three full-time staff.

It was aiming to have 40 officers complete their Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) drone training and up to 18 drones in operation by the start of 2018.

The unit’s six drones have already been used to find missing people and gather evidence to secure court convictions.

They are equipped with a zoom camera and thermal imaging, which can cost up to £6,000.

Drones have been trialled by other police forces, including Merseyside, Gwent and Kent for various uses including monitoring drug raids and searching for missing people.

Much like the larger of the two drones used by Norfolk Police - the Inspire - Devon’s UAV features police livery.


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