Devon & Cornwall and Dorset Police launch the UK's first operational drone unit
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

Devon & Cornwall and Dorset Police have become the first police forces in the UK to launch a fully operational drone unit. The forces have been trialling UAVs since November 2015.

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

The drone will be used to aid officers as part of missing person searches; crime scene photography; responding to major road traffic collisions; coastal and woodland searches; to combat wildlife crime or even help police and monitor suspects during a firearm or terrorist incident. Wherever officers call for an aerial asset there will be the option to send a drone.

The two forces have a total of six drones for operational use based in Plymouth and Dorset - four DJI Inspire 1s and two DJI Mavic.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.

It aims to have around 40 officers who have successfully completed their Civil Aviation (CAA) training, allow them to be fully accredited by the start of 2018 – it will then look to procure further drones via the appropriate channels, to allow it to offer a force-wide 24/7 support, potentially increasing the number of drones available for operational use to around a dozen by 2018.

While drones are being used by a small number of forces in the UK, only Devon & Cornwall and Dorset has a fully operation, stand-alone drone unit.

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.

“Being the first police forces in the country to have a stand-alone, fully operational drone unit is a great source of pride for the Alliance, and proves that we continue to work hard to find innovative ways to adapt to the ever-changing policing landscape.”

Drone team manager, Andy Hamilton, said: “It is fantastic to see both forces working together to lead the way in utilising new, cutting-edge technology. Having previously been a police officer for 30 years, I have seen how technology has changed and can help us become more efficient in what we are trying to achieve.

“An example of this is historically, any aerial photos or videos have been captured by The National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter; this is not always the best use of resources. Instead of always sending a helicopter on an hour’s flight to take a few photos of a crime scene, we can now use a drone to carry out the same task.

“Whilst drones will enhance our roads policing function, I also see this technology being able to complement NPAS by allowing helicopters to be available for more serious incidents across the South West.”

The Drone Unit has been keeping the public informed about where and when the drone is in operational use within Devon and Cornwall, and Dorset since the trial began in November 2015, through its @PoliceDrones Twitter account. The team also shares operational footage and images of the drone in action via this handle.

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