POLICE will soon have the help of a hi-tech eye in the sky.
The Warwickshire force is preparing to launch a drone for a six month trial, due to start in January, as police look to take advantage of the latest technology in the fight against crime.
The drone is essentially a small remote controlled helicopter-like flying high definition camera about the size of a dustbin lid.
Police chiefs showed off their latest recruit at the force’s Leek Wootton headquarters.
Chief Inspector Damian Sowry emphasised the trial drone was not meant to replace the force helicopter but perform tasks the helicopter could not – such as a trapped person in a hard to reach situation.
He said: “They’re lightweight and maneuverable but are not meant to travel long distances.
“But what they can do is get into less accessible areas, give us a clear view from above and get a good look into areas where we couldn’t send officers on foot.
“The trial is chance for us to use these drones in certain situations to see how they can help us out in the field and get a better understanding of how we can use them effectively.”
With just over 20 minutes flight time per full charge of a battery and a top speed of 25mph, the drone will be used to quickly respond to incidents or to help ensure safety at large public gatherings and demonstrations.
The data the drones gather will be held on a stand alone system and the rules governing the storage of information are the same as body worn video and CCTV collected by police.
Warwickshire police and crime commissioner Ron Ball was quick to stress there was nothing ‘Big Brother’ about the use of drones.
He said: “It is important that drones are used in clearly defined ways and that the public is reassured that the police will not use the technology inappropriately to spy on them or undertake any kinds of covert surveillance unless there is an appropriate authority in place.”
And Acting Assistant Chief Constable Nav Malik wanted to dispel the idea drones were dangerous as many may only be familiar with their use in military terms.
He said: “The whole point of the trial is to show how public safety is of the utmost importance. The trial will help us see if the drones can be used effectively in tackling crime and saving lives.
“They would only ever be used in controlled situations – most commonly when helping vulnerable people. For example, if we are searching for a missing person, the drones give us a chance to have a clear view of a huge area which might be covered by several officers on the ground.”
“Drones can also help us gather evidence to support a prosecution, for example taking aerial photographs of a road traffic collision or crime scene. We will be interested to see how this technology could assist.”
The drone Warwickshire Police is trialling costs £5,000 – which is cheap in comparison with more technologically advanced models such as the £60,000 security drone employed by Gatwick Airport to patrol the runway and perimeter fencing.
If the trial is successful, police drones in Warwickshire skies could become a permanent site by this time next year.