WMP demonstrates power of thermal imaging

West Midlands Police is using its website to demonstrate to the public the power of thermal imaging in the fight against crime with a series of pictures taken from the force helicopter.

May 10, 2013
By Paul Jacques
Picture: South Central Ambulance Service

West Midlands Police is using its website to demonstrate to the public the power of thermal imaging in the fight against crime with a series of pictures taken from the force helicopter.

Its specialist heat-sensitive camera works by determining the temperature of objects and converting the information into a visible picture.

It is then displayed in black and white on a monitor, showing either black or white as hot, depending on the preference of the person watching the footage.

One of the images shows a burglary suspect discarding an item in some bushes as he tries to get away from pursuing officers. But the heat-sensitive camera captures the disposal and the property can clearly be seen glowing in the hedge, which officers later recovered and used as evidence.

Another image shows suspects hiding among a cluster of industrial units; their heat radiating from some 900ft away and picked up by the helicopter flying overhead.

The helicopter, Alpha Oscar 1 (AO1), is fitted with an array of technology that helped to catch 537 people last year. It also assists in searches for missing people.

In 2012, the helicopter spent 1,175 hours in the sky and was responsible for finding 27 people who had been reported missing.

Sergeant David Mitchell said: “It takes such a short amount of time for us to search an area that it really pays off for the officers on the ground – who are then freed-up to carry out more urgent tasks.”

But he said it’s not just about crime – the police helicopter also acts as casualty transportation in life or death situations when the air ambulance cannot work at night.

The AO1 team regularly updates residents across the West Midlands about their activities via a dedicated Twitter account – @WMP_Helicopter.

It was set up to allow people to see where the helicopter has been and why it’s been there.

Sgt Mitchell added: “We tweet regularly about the incidents we’ve been involved with and try to give as much information as possible without jeopardising any investigations or court proceedings.

“People often want to know why we’ve woken them up in the early hours of the morning, which is understandable, and we hope that our Twitter account helps them understand the nature of the incidents we attend.

“The overwhelming response from our community is that they welcome the assistance the aircraft gives.”

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