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Drone unit ‘historic step’ for policing in UK

The drones will help scour 600 miles of coastline, as well as woodlands, and help combat wildlife crime.

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

Devon and Cornwall and Dorset police forces began trialling the technology in November 2015 and the unit has now become fully established.

Five officers have been trained, with a further 40 aiming to complete their Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) accreditation in the next 12 months.

There are currently six drones – equipped with a zoom camera and thermal imaging – in operation across the two forces.

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

They also help scour the forces’ 600 miles of coastline, as well as woodlands, and help combat wildlife crime.

Chief Superintendent Jim Nye, commander for the Alliance Operations Department, described the unit as an “historic step” for policing in the UK.

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A DJI Inspire Police Drone flies (Ben Birchall/PA)

“This technology offers a highly cost-effective approach in supporting our officers on the ground in operational policing,” Mr Nye said.

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

A thermal camera costs about £6,000 and a zoom camera costs £800. Helicopters cost about £800 per hour.

“I think long term, it will be very cost effective to use the drones,” Mr Nye said. “The helicopter isn’t always available and you want to have it available for life-threatening situations.

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Devon and Cornwall and Dorset Police launched the first fully operational drone unit at Westpoint Arena in Clyst St Mary, near Exeter (Ben Birchall/PA)

“This is not going to be a replacement to police officers, this is going to complement what we do.

“I think the public would expect that if we can get value for money with a drone over a helicopter, that we do so.”

Drones from the trial have been used to help secure convictions in court cases, with evidence from them being used in jury bundles.

They have also located missing people and taken images of major crime scenes, a spokesman for the alliance said.

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The DJI Inspire Police Drone lands (Ben Birchall/PA)

Mr 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.

“Being the first police forces in the country to have a standalone, fully operational drone unit is a great source of pride for the alliance.”

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A drone is prepared to launch (Ben Birchall/PA Wire)

In the coming months, drones will be used in roads policing vehicles across the unit’s area to offer on-the-move technology.

The unit aims to have 40 officers complete their CAA training and become fully accredited by the start of 2018.

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