Drones transform ‘visible’ policing

Wiltshire Police is drawing on the skills of its special constables as it becomes the latest force to develop drone capability. Chief Constable Mike Veale said the Specials’ “extensive experience in this area” would be harnessed to take the lead in the pilot of the force’s Unmanned Aviation Support Group (UASG).

May 24, 2017
By Paul Jacques

Wiltshire Police is drawing on the skills of its special constables as it becomes the latest force to develop drone capability. Chief Constable Mike Veale said the Specials’ “extensive experience in this area” would be harnessed to take the lead in the pilot of the force’s Unmanned Aviation Support Group (UASG).

He said the drones – unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – will “augment the provision provided by the National Police Aviation Service”.

“Wiltshire Police is always looking to embrace technology and be innovative in our approach, so I am delighted to be able to welcome in UAVs,” said Mr Veale.

“This is also a fantastic opportunity for us to draw on the skills and enthusiasm of the incredible volunteers in our Special Constabulary. They have made an outstanding effort to do the training and get the required licences to provide what can be a key resource for the force.

“Of course, you can never replace the knowledge and experience of police officers with technology, but this resource can certainly really help them in their work.”

The project has been led by Special Superintendent Scott Bateman. Members of the Special Constabulary and one regular police officer have been trained in the use of UAVs and licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Mr Veale said that throughout the trial the UAVs will assist operational policing – enhancing officer and public safety by giving an aerial overview and in conducting searches for missing people.

The benefit, he explained, was that UAVs can access areas a helicopter cannot, like low levels or densely wooded areas. They can also be used at night with heat seeking capability and can fly in cloudy or windy conditions.

Mr Veale said they would also be useful tools in the fight against rural crime, “enabling us to search large remote spaces quickly and can take footage of a crime scene which may assist investigations”.

Special Supt Bateman said his team had put a great deal of time and effort into making the pilot a success, adding: “We are determined to make sure that the UASG is a valued tool for the force over the coming months.”

He is reassuring the public that the UAVs will not be used to ‘spy’ on people and will be in use only for “operational reasons as deployed by the force control room”.

“The users will comply with CAA regulations in the same way that anyone else who flies a UAV must. Any footage that is captured is treated in the same way as any other footage – CCTV or still images – and is subject to the same codes of practice and laws.”

He said when the police UAV is operational there will be “very visible” ‘Police UAV in use’ signage in the area, and the officers will wear special ‘Police UAV Pilot” uniforms.

Superintendent Dave Minty, head of Wiltshire Police headquarters operations, said: “We are looking forward to seeing the benefits of this new tool and the advantages of using UAVs in the fight against crime and to enhance officer and community safety.”

Wiltshire police and crime commissioner (PCC) Angus Macpherson added: “Making use of technology as an operational tool to search, document crime scenes and give greater visibility in times of need across our town, villages and more rural locations can only enhance Wiltshire Police’s capability to help keep our communities safe.

“I am pleased to see Wiltshire Police is harnessing the skills, knowledge and experience Specials bring to the force.”

Alongside their use as an operational tool, if the pilot is successful Wiltshire Police will also work to become an accredited training centre for a police-specific UAV course.

In neighbouring Dorset, PCC Martyn Underhill believes drones could “revolutionise” policing in the same way that the introduction of police radios did in the 1960s.

Dorset Police is one of the growing number of forces across England and Wales that already use drones, sharing four with Devon and Cornwall Police in an arrangement that has been fully licensed by the CAA.

“Look at how the portable two-way radios transformed policing in the

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