'Drone Unit' for British police brings crime fighting to the skies

We already know how a camera-equipped drone can transform the work of filmmakers, opening up the possibility of awesome aerial footage captured at a fraction of the cost of hiring a helicopter and pilot.

Gradually waking up to the myriad of possibilities that drone technology offers, an increasing number of other organizations and businesses are incorporating the flying machines into their daily activities, using them to expand and complement existing operations while at the same time making their work more efficient.

Fire and police departments, for example, are already taking advantage of the technology, with the New York City Fire Department, for example, now using a custom-built remotely controlled copter to give firefighters on the ground extra — and highly valuable — information about a blaze before deciding how to tackle it.

In the U.K., meanwhile, two police departments have teamed up to launch the country’s very first 24-hour drone unit that uses an array of drones for a variety of situations.

Devon and Cornwall Police, and neighboring Dorset Police in the southwest of England, launched the unit this week following an 18-month trial. Several teams of officers are ready around the clock to deploy the flying machines where and when needed.

The equipment currently includes versatile DJI Inspire drones to which powerful thermal imaging and zoom cameras can be attached. DJI’s smaller Mavic drone is also being used.

Chief Superintendent Jim Nye, who heads the new team, described the launch of the drone unit as a “historic step for policing in the U.K.”

Nye told Cornwall Live that the technology “offers a highly cost-effective approach in supporting our officers on the ground in operational policing.”

He added that the technology will be used for a range of work, including helping with missing person searches, gathering images from crime scenes and major traffic accidents, and taking part in coastal and woodland searches to fight wildlife crime.

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

The unit acknowledges that current drone models might not be useful in all situations, such as when the weather conditions are too extreme for them to fly, and says helicopters can still be called upon as and when needed.

The Drone Unit has a Twitter feed up and running if you’d like to find out more about its latest operations using its new equipment.