Hampshire police set to use drones at football matches and search for missing people
DRONES are being deployed in the fight against crime with three police-operated craft taking to the skies in a matter of weeks.
Hampshire police spent £160,000 training 34 operators and buying seven drones with Thames Valley Police as they launch a pilot scheme putting the devices to the test.
Officers will deploy three in Hampshire up to 400ft high in searches for missing people, at football matches, photographing crime scenes, during police raids and at car crashes.
Drones will also be used from mid-August as air support monitoring criminals armed with a gun or knife during an incident so officers on cordons can be sent back on patrol.
PC Andy Sparshott, involved in the trial run, said the kit would mean fewer officers need to be deployed to missing people searches and other incidents.
He said: ‘We can use these drones to search areas where officers are currently on cordons. We are there protecting the people’s safety because of an offender there with a knife or it may be an firearm-related incident.
‘Our officers are on cordons awaiting air support and by having drones locally available it means we can release those officers quickly from the incident back to policing patrol for the next emergency.’
A police spokeswoman said drones flown by pilots trained to a Civil Aviation Authority regulations standards would not fly them out of sight, with cordons put in place where possible to protect people.
PC Sparshott added drone pilots would be ‘not spying on people unnecessarily’.
Kitted out with thermal imaging cameras the drones can be operated at night and in poor weather. They are also capable of dropping a small payload, which could be a rescue aid for people struggling in water.
Manufacturer Yuneec sells similar models sell for around £1,500 apiece online. It comes as the National Police Air Service was criticised in 2017 for being ineffective and inefficient, with officers waiting for delayed air support.
PC Sparshott said: ‘We hope that these drones will mean we can send less officers to the incident in the first place, so for example during that high-risk missing people search it takes a lot of people, officers, to search large pieces of open land. We can do that safely, efficiently and quickly using drones meaning that we can send less officers to the incident in the first place.’
Police have insisted that people's privacy will be protected, with encryption used to protect any images captured. Noise levels will be ‘really quiet,’ police said, and added that they will not be used in covert operations.
It comes as crime commissioner Michael Lane welcomed the government promise to recruit 20,000 police. He said it would allow officers to ‘get ahead of future threat’.
Assistant chief constable Dave Hardcastle said: ‘We will look at how drones can assist in a variety of overt policing situations with a view to rolling out the use of drones in both forces permanently, should the pilot be a success.’