Police welcome new crime-fighting eye in the sky

Vince and drone label whiteout

A new and improved police drone is taking to the skies above Nottinghamshire – another crime-fighting, life-saving eye in the sky for the county’s specialist police team.

The team, a resource shared with Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, was launched in January 2020 and has since established itself as one on the most effective in the country – locating 13 high risk missing people, securing dozens of arrests and gathering high-quality video evidence.

After operating with one main drone throughout its first 18 months, the team has recently taken delivery of a new primary drone – doubling its capacity to carry out reactive and pre-planned deployments.

The DJI Matrice 300 brings considerable improvements in battery life, durability, speed and range and has a thermally equipped camera capable of a 200 x zoom – allowing pilots to get highly detailed images and identify heat sources from almost a mile away.

It also has several other high-tech tricks up its sleeve, including a powerful spotlight, the ability to pinpoint and follow targets on a map, and a laser range finder that can give accurate geo-locational data from a distance of up to 1,200 metres away.

The team’s 17 operational pilots are currently undertaking familiarisation flights with the drone, which is now ready for operational use.

Nottinghamshire Police’s Chief Constable Craig Guildford said the new kit would vastly boost the force’s capability to track down suspects and support officers on the ground.

“This really is a state-of-the-art piece of equipment that is set to make life even harder for criminals,” he said.

“Our drone capability has proved invaluable in a large number of investigations and we are seeing more and more that officers are recognising their value when they call on them for support in tracking down criminals, keeping people safe during large scale events and finding vulnerable people who are missing from home. It is also a shared asset that can be used by our fire service colleagues.

“As a force we are always looking at how we can adapt and evolve to do things better and in recent years we have embraced a number of new technologies – from body-cams to mobile fingerprint scanners. This increased investment in drones is a further example of that and I’m confident it will prove to be an incredibly useful tool in the fight against crime.”

Chief Pilot PC Vince Saunders said he believed the significant financial investment by Nottinghamshire Police showed the impact and effectiveness of the drone team.

“Over the last 18 months we have developed a really effective operational resource capable of responding to emergency demand and supporting pre-planned operations,” he said.

“The main advantage of this new drone is that it will allow us to send our most effective and durable drones to these deployments simultaneously – greatly increasing our availability to officers on the ground. I am particularly excited by several new features on the drone, including its new hot-swapping battery technology that reduces to a matter of seconds the time it takes to swap out batteries and get airborne again.

“All in all we’ll be able to fly for longer, see further and follow suspects and vehicles with a greater degree of accuracy than ever before. That will allow us to carry out existing deployments more effectively and also open up some new opportunities to follow more challenging targets.”

The team, based at Sherwood Lodge police headquarters in Arnold, now has four drones – two main units and two smaller consumer style support units. It is constantly on alert to deploy to anywhere in the county at a moment’s notice, and is also on hand to assist colleagues from Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service – giving them potentially life-saving temperature information of building fires.

Other drone uses include crowd control, monitoring the illegal use of off road vehicles and providing 2D and 3D mapping of crime and accident scenes.

Recent successes for the Nottinghamshire team include the arrest of a suspect wanted on suspicion of shooting sheep with a crossbow and the seizure of several illegal off-road bikes as part of a wider police operation.

Police forces across the UK have been using a variety of platforms to give aerial views of people and events since the 1920s – from airships and fixed-wing aeroplanes to helicopters and drones.

Asked about the future of aerial police support PC Saunders added: “I think we are still in the very early days of a really exciting journey in the use of drones in police work. In the future I believe we will see the use of fixed wing drones. These would allow police forces to benefit from operations beyond the line of sight – giving a much closer comparison to traditional helicopter operations.”