Norfolk Police will be using drones to help search for missing people, obtain crime scene photography and investigate rural crime.
The unmanned aerial systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, will be used in operational policing as a three-month trial of the technology gets underway today.
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.”
Norfolk’s two drone units – Inspire, which cost £1,500 and Mavic, which cost £850 – can fly in winds of up to 50mph and can stay in the air for up to 20 minutes at a time before returning to the operator to have their batteries changed.
Each drone also has a 4K downlink which means officers on the ground and in the Contact and Control Room (CCR) can see live footage captured in the air.
The technology has already been used during incidents within Norfolk, including forensic photography at an industrial incident, firearms incidents and searches.
DCC Dean added: “The drones will now be available to assist officers across the county and while we’re a long way off drones becoming standard kit in a police car, the early indications are they will be a positive contribution to the policing of Norfolk.”
Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Lorne Green, who has made a commitment to use 21st Century technology to prevent and detect crime, said: “For our police to be as efficient and effective as possible, it’s vital they have the right tools. When it comes to tackling the crime affecting our communities in the 21st century, we need to be looking at the 21st century technology available to us.
“For some time now I’ve been calling for Norfolk Police to explore the potential that drones offer. It’s early days but I’m pleased to see the trial is showing signs there are benefits for the Force in the use of drones. I’ll be following the pilot with interest as it continues.”
Civil Aviation (CAA) regulations state that drone operators must pass a national CAA accredited qualification.
Sergeant 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.
“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.
“I firmly believe the drones represent the future partnership of technology and policing. If successful, which I am sure it will be, there are some exciting plans that can be developed to ensure a cost effective, efficient and advanced police force.”