Police launch first fully-operational drone unit in the UK: All you need to know

The drone unit will be able to help with missing person searches, crime scene investigation and, in future, possibly terrorism.

Two police forces have teamed up to become the first in the UK to launch a fully operational drone unit.

After trials began in November 2015, Devon and Cornwall and Dorset police forces have unveiled six police drones which will now operate in their areas – and the useful additions look to be the first of many.

So, you’ve seen the drones in action – but here’s a more detailed look at what they can do and how they’ll be used.

What are the drones like and how much do they cost?

The units are currently using DJI Inspire drones, costing approximately £2,000 with the basic camera, and DJI Mavic drones, costing £1,300.

The drone with an officer
(Ben Birchall/PA)

Some of the drones are equipped with a zoom camera and thermal imaging. A thermal camera costs about £6,000 and a zoom camera costs £800.

Currently, a helicopter costs about £800 per hour however, and Chief Superintendent Jim Nye, commander for the Alliance Operations Department said they will be “very cost effective” in the long term.

Appearance-wise, some have police livery but don’t have flashing lights or sirens – but others have been left blank for covert operations.

The drone in the hands of an officer
(Ben Birchall/PA)

Do they have any limitations?

Drones are limited to a height of 400ft and a distance of 500m away from the operator.

Drone operator
(Ben Birchall/PA)

Furthermore, they cannot fly within 50 metres of a person or building without the landowner being informed.

They are also restricted from flying within 150 metres of a congested area, or gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

What will they be used for?

The drones can take part in missing person searches, crime scene photography and respond to major road traffic collisions.

Drones from the trial period have been used to help secure convictions in court cases, with evidence from them being used in jury bundles. They also found missing people and took images of major crime scenes.

A police drone operator
(Ben Birchall/PA)

They can also help scour the 600 miles of coastline under the jurisdiction of the two police forces currently using them, as well as woodlands, and help combat wildlife crime.

Nye added that in the future, he anticipated that drones would be used to assist in counter-terrorism operations.

“Drones can even help police track and monitor suspects during a firearm or terrorist incident,” he said. “It will allow officers to gain vital information quickly, safely and allow us to respond effectively at the scene.

One of the DJI Mavic drones
(Ben Birchall/PA)

How widespread will police drones be?

Currently there are six drones and five officers trained to operate them in the Devon and Cornwall and Dorset police forces. Although a number of other forces in the UK do use drones, this is the first such unit.

However, a further 40 officers aim to complete their Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) accreditation in the next 12 months – and the unit will obtain 12 further drones by 2018.

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