Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police have today, 29 October 2015, announced a six month trial of small unmanned aircraft more commonly referred to as drones starting in January 2016.
DJI InspireA demonstration of the drone technology was provided today at Leek Wootton in Warwickshire to members of the independent Trust, Integrity and Ethics Committee, who will scrutinise the force’s proposed use of drones prior to commencement of the trial.
Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Nav Malik said: “We believe small unmanned aircraft can bring a number of benefits to operational policing. Using drones could allow the police service to expand air operations in a cost effective way, helping to further protect communities from harm.
“During the trial we will use drones in two ways – they may be deployed to an incident as a resource to assist or they may be used in a preplanned operation for example to help manage public safety.
“One area we are keen to explore further is how drones may be able to assist officers in locating a vulnerable missing person in a rural area. In theory a drone should be able to help us search a large area quickly using aerial photography and thermal imaging equipment. This can be viewed from the ground to direct officers to a location faster. We look forward to seeing how this could work.
“Drones can also help us gather evidence to support a prosecution, for example taking aerial photographs of a road traffic collision or crime scene. We will be interested to see how this technology could assist.
Each drone will be controlled by a fully trained Operator who has physical responsibility for the direction and control of the aircraft. A second person referred to as an Observer is responsible for operating the photographic equipment attached to the device.
The data the drones gather will be held on a stand alone system within West Mercia Police accessible by both forces. The rules that govern the storage of information are the same as body worn video and CCTV.
T/ACC Malik said: “Whilst there are a lot of benefits to the use of drones, we are keen to reassure the public that public safety is of paramount importance at all times. Policies and procedures have been put in place to ensure that air operations using these small drones are carried out safely, ethically and in accordance with relevant CAA regulations.”
Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Ball said: “If, how and when drones are to be used in policing are not purely operational decisions. It is important that drones are used in clearly defined ways and that the public is reassured that the police will not use the technology inappropriately to spy on them or undertake any kinds of covert surveillance unless there is an appropriate authority in place. I am pleased therefore that the independent Trust, Integrity and Ethics Committee is taking the opportunity to scrutinise the policies around their use and offer their feedback, prior to the trial commencing.
“Today’s demonstration highlights the many possible benefits drones could bring to operational policing and with the pace of development making the technology ever more-affordable compared to alternative policing techniques, it is right that we hold a small-scale trial to establish what the capabilities are in real-world conditions.
“If the trial can establish value for money and the feedback from officers and the public is positive, then more widespread deployment could be considered.”
Barrie Sheldon, Deputy PCC for West Mercia, said: “It is important that we will still have local governance in place for the use of drones and I welcome the fact our independent Trust, Integrity and Ethics Committee will be developing robust policies for their use and I see our role as the PCC to ensure that officers work within these agreed policies.
“I believe drones can be a very important tool in saving lives and reducing crime and I am assured that there is strict legislation in place regarding their legal and proportionate use to ensure people are protected and do not feel they are being spied on.
“This trial is to be welcomed and I hope it will help to establish what significant savings the Force can make by using them instead of paying the high costs of sending up helicopters. We face ever growing financial challenges and drones may be one way to help the Force be even more efficient in its working practices while still offering an excellent service to the public.”
Following the trial the results will be evaluated and used to support the decision of whether SUAs will be formally adopted by the Alliance.