UK police forces want to use drones to search for missing people

Police forces in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset are testing the use of drones for searching for missing people and exploring crime scenes

Police forces in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset have revealed they are testing the use of drones for use in a number of policing matters, including missing people searches and photography of crime scenes.

From today, police in Devon and Cornwall will be able to call upon the services of two DJI Inspire 1 drones, which are equipped with high definition cameras that can capture both video and still images. One is based in Exeter and the other in Plymouth.

Both drones have an HD downlink which means officers on the ground can see live footage captured by the drone in the air. Each drone can fly for up to 18 minutes at a time before returning to the operator to change batteries – although each drone has several batteries, so can be kept operational for a prolonged period of time if required.

Police in Dorset are also undertaking final preparations for drone use, and will be trialling in their area from 26th November. Further details will be announced later in the month.

“Drones offer many benefits that complement the National Police Air Service (NPAS) Helicopter. This technology offers a highly cost effective approach to missing person searches, crime scene photography, and responding to major road traffic collisions,” said Inspector Andy Hamilton, who is heading up the trial.

“Using a drone to capture footage on difficult terrain and hard to reach areas such as cliffs, woodland or the moors to find a missing person, combat wildlife crime or even a firearm incident, will allow officers to gain vital information, quickly, safely, and allow us to respond effectively at the scene.”

Civil Aviation (CAA) regulations state that drone operators must pass a national CAA accredited qualification. The Devon and Cornwall force currently has three trained operators in place for the trial, including Inspector Hamilton, and there are plans to train further officers should the trial prove to be a success.

A new Twitter account has been created @DC_PoliceDrones which will keep the public informed about where and when the drones are in operational use within Devon and Cornwall, as well as sharing operational footage and images of the drones in action.

“This technology still has its limitations; the models we are trialling are currently unable to fly at night or in adverse weather, but having the option to put a drone in the air in a few minutes’ notice could help save lives,” said Inspector Hamilton.

Earlier this year, it emerged that police in the north Indian city of Lucknow were testing the use of pepper-spraying drones for controlling unruly protesters. Police chief Yashasvi Yadav, said that the results were “brilliant”, and that they had worked out how to target “the mob” in winds and congested areas.

Meanwhile, the Australian postal service announced today that it would be using drones to deliver parcels to rural communities – rather like the drone delivery service proposed by Amazon.

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