Locating a stranded rape victim and catching deer hunters in the act are just two of the standout missions from which Lincolnshire Police has highlighted the real benefit of drones as part of its work in the last two months.
UAVs arm the police service with an additional tool for all kinds of operations and provide officers with eyes in the sky in a more conservative way than sending up a helicopter. Being able to launch a drone can save money, improve response time and increase efficiency, all of which Lincolnshire Police has demonstrated already.
Sergeant Ed Delderfield, project lead for unmanned aerial vehicles, says his team have been quick to integrate drones into their work, noting that their deployment can be the difference between life and death in some cases.
“Our biggest success was saving a man’s life in February 2018. Following a traffic collision, the victim staggered from his car and fell into a water-filled ditch six feet deep. It was 2am and sub-zero temperatures. The ditch and surrounding area had been searched by officers with torches and firefighters with handheld thermal cameras. Only when the thermal camera-equipped drone arrived on scene was the victim’s faint heat signature seen. Officers were guided in and rescued him — he was hypothermic and unconscious.”
This description showcases the true power of drones and reaffirms why they are no longer regarded as novelty devices but aids that have a major role to play in modern day policing.
Drones provide a more flexible and cost-effective air asset compared with the NPAS helicopter alternative.”
Delderfield says: “Drones provide a more flexible and cost-effective air asset compared with the NPAS helicopter alternative. As technology and legislation advances, I can see unmanned aircraft taking over. However, the manned helicopter still provides a unique capability and we are a long way off being able to operate without them. In Lincolnshire, we are very lucky to have a chief officer team, from the chief constable down, that is overwhelming supportive of drone use. We are also championed by our police and crime commissioner Mr Marc Jones. The main barrier is cost and budget. Policing faces significant financial pressures and funding the latest aircraft and camera payloads is a real challenge despite the operation and efficiency benefits they bring.
“Lincolnshire is one of the poorest funded forces in the country and we are very proud of what we have been able to achieve for a total equipment outlay in the region of £25,000.”
Lincolnshire Police operates an in-house drone team, which is a model that has both its pros and cons. An internal drone team allows a police force to have a unit which can be deployed at any given moment and is fully aware of the procedures a police force must follow when carrying out a serious crime-fighting mission. But that doesn’t mean that it is not without its obstacles, not least in terms of resource.
Delderfield explains: “The main challenge is around availability. Our model of operation is to skill frontline response officers in drone operation as an additional skill in the same way some officers carry Taser.
“However, our budget only allows two aircraft which we split between east and west sides of our 2,500 square mile force area. There have been occasions when the drone-trained officers on duty are committed with other high priority, but non-drone related, tasking from which they cannot be released.
In addition, when one drone is sent for service or repairs, our ability to fulfil the demand is significantly affected. We are unable to afford to keep ‘spare’ airframes or uplift our operational fleet to provide resilience.”
From a technical standpoint, emergency services across the UK primarily employ DJI drones and software, and according to Delderfield, Lincolnshire Police is no different.
“Like the vast majority of UK emergency services we use DJI products. We fly DJI Inspire 1 V2 as our main operational drone with interchangeable payloads including zoom and thermal cameras. For daytime crime scene tasking we use the DJI Mavic Pro. We source our drones from commercial vendors licensed by DJI Enterprise and utilise DJI manufacture-only software to ensure safe operations. “
Lincolnshire Police has previously made drone equipment purchases with Heliguy, a leading UK dealer and supplier of DJI products. As a CAA approved provider of PfCO training, it has also used Heliguy for training purposes alongside locally-based Rusta.
Delderfield explains the processes in place for officers using drones:
“Other than the standard PfCO CAA requirement, our officers are mentored by existing experienced trained officers and sit internal flight assessments in night flight and flying BVLOS.
“Our officers are now required to re-qualify with flight assessments annually, beginning in May 2019 when they will also receive training inputs from police search advisors and other key departments.”
Lincolnshire Police’s pioneering use of drones looks set to continue to grow over the months and years to come and from the success it has demonstrated so far, it is inevitable that other forces across the country will follow suit.