Police chief enthused by drone trial

Using drones to gather evidence will help protect communities, a police chief said today.

Police chief enthused by drone trial

The comments come after West Mercia Police revealed it will start a six-month trial with drone technology in January, covering both the West Mercia and Warwickshire areas.

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 pre-planned 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."

The data the drones gather will be held on a standalone system within West Mercia Police accessible by both forces. The rules that govern the storage of information are the same as those of body-worn video – footage taken from cameras fitted to officers' clothes – and CCTV.

Each drone will be directed by a trained operator. A second person, referred to as an observer, will be responsible for operating the photographic equipment on the device.

Mr 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 Civil Aviation Authority regulations."

The independent Trust, Integrity and Ethics Committee, which monitors both forces, will scrutinise the proposed use of drones before the trial begins.

Barrie Sheldon, deputy police and crime commissioner 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."

Following the trial, the results will be evaluated and used to support the decision of whether the drones will be formally adopted.

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