FEATURE: Warwickshire Police take to the skies for drone trials

The trial will last for six months
The trial will last for six months

Unmanned drones intended to be trialled by the Warwickshire and West Mercia forces were demonstrated at Warwickshire Police’s headquarters in Leek Wootton last week.

The trial will cost £30,000 and starts on Monday November 9. It will involve two drones and will last for six months before both forces decide to incorporate drones into their operations or not.

A drone that could be used by Warwickshire Police

A drone that could be used by Warwickshire Police

The drones, or ‘small unmanned aircraft’, cost £5,000 each as a ‘package’ which includes the cost of the drone itself, the training of controllers, and the costs of batteries for the machine.

They are intended to complement the police’s existing helicopters, either to assist officers assess a scene or to be used in a pre-planned operation, such as helping manage public safety during a busy event. Examples cited by officers included following an armed criminal and monitoring a siege of a house.

During the demonstration, the drone was used in a rehearsed scenario, where it located a female who needed medical attention.

Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Nav Malik said: “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.

“Drones can also help us gather evidence to support a prosecution, for example taking photographs of a road traffic collision or of a crime.

“The drones are more cost-effective than helicopters and will enable us to deploy officers more effectively.”

Each drone is controlled by a fully-trained operator, and a second observer operates the independent camera which can rotate 360 degrees.

They weigh 1.7kg and can fly for around 21 minutes on a full battery in good weather.

Officers at the demonstration were keen to point out that the drones are designed to be overt, not covert.

The data the drones gather will be governed by the same rules as body cameras and CCTV footage.

T/ACC Malik added: “We are keen to reassure the public that public safety is paramount.

“Policies and procedures have been put in place to ensure that air operations using these drones are carried out safely, ethically and in accordance with relevant Civil Aviation Authority regulations.

“We are thinking of putting police insignia on the drones to make sure the public know it’s one of our drones and not someone else’s.”

Before the trial begins, the Trust, Integrity and Ethics Committee set up by Warwickshire and West Mercia’s police and crime commissioners will scrutinise the policies around the use of the drones and will offer its feedback.

Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Ball said: “It is important that drones are used in clearly defined ways and that the public is reassured the police will not use the technology to spy on them or undertake any kinds of covert surveillance unless there is an appropriate authority in place.

“The demonstration highlighted the many possible benefits drones could bring to policing.

“If the trial establishes value for money and the feedback from officers and the public is positive then widespread deployment could be considered.”