Derbyshire police is expanding its drone unit to provide round the clock cover across the county.
Since it was established last year, the unit’s powerful imaging and thermal equipment has been deployed on a wide variety of incidents.
Officers have used the unmanned aerial vehicle to search remote locations for missing people, provide aerial views of warrant enforcements, crime scenes and ongoing incidents, monitor crowds at football fixtures, and direct firefighters tackling wildfires.
Assistant Chief Constable Kem Mehmet said: “We’ve known for a long time that drones can give our officers a hugely advantageous tool.
“The drones complement our other resources and more traditional policing methods and better equip our officers with the kit they need to serve the people of Derbyshire.”
The unit has proved such a success that demands on its five officers have steadily increased as their potential has been realised.
Chief Constable Peter Goodman has always maintained he wanted the force have 24/7 drone capability, and that has now been made possible by extra investment arising from the increase in the Council Tax precept for this year.
The unit has expanded from five to 28 pilots, with officers undergoing eight weeks of training, alongside their usual roles, to qualify for Civil Aviation Authority permissions.
ACC Mehmet said: “It was critically important that we invested some of the Council Tax increase money into this technology and I am pleased that our pilot numbers have increased to provide that county-wide, 24/7 cover.
“The increase in the number of officers trained to pilot the drones will help us target resources appropriately, saving time, money and lives.”
The force now has 16 drones in total, based in Buxton, Chesterfield, Cotton Lane in Derby, the roads policing unit (RPU) and collision investigation.
Another has been given to Buxton Mountain Rescue Team, the first in England and Wales to be given permission to use drones in the search for missing people.
The police fleet includes two types of drone. One has either x30 optical zoom or thermal imaging and can be flown in wet and windy weather.
The other is designed for rapid response and can be in the air within minutes, shooting 4K UltraHD footage.
Video is captured via a memory card, then uploaded to police IT systems in a similar way body-worn camera evidence.
The rise in the Council Tax precept was agreed by Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa following consultation last year which showed public support for increased investment in frontline policing.
Mr Dhindsa, said: “Use of technology to allow the force to do their job efficiently and effectively is one of my priorities.
“I am pleased the Chief Constable is taking full advantage of drone technology to support officers on the ground.”
While the benefits to police appear clear, privacy campaigners have raised fears about increasing police surveillance capabilities, the misuse of drones, and the fact that they may be indistinguishable from non-police vehicles. For more information, go to https://bit.ly/2Y87uqO.