In England, ‘The Flying Squad’ is a branch of the police force used to tackle serious and organized crime. But since one force is recruiting a "drone manager" to head up a new unit devoted to tackling crime with police drones, they might need to think of a new name.
Devon and Cornwall Police covers the largest geographic area of any force in England and will send out drones to gather information and take pictures at crime scenes.
Other forces are apparently considering more frequent use of drones, thanks to the increased efficiency and cost savings associated with missing person searches, suspect surveillance and responding to vehicle crashes.
A police drone was used at a soccer game last year to keep watch on potential flashpoints for crowd violence during a local derby.
It’s anticipated that police drones will probably be adopted by many forces since they are considerably cheaper and quicker to deploy than helicopters.
Aerial systems are being more widely used by Canadian and US police as well. Police departments are recognizing that in situations where helicopters are needed that cost, obtaining authorization, and the difficulties involved in maneuvering in built-up urban environments all present logistical problems that are not present or not as difficult to manage with a fleet of drones.
Police do have special needs that need to be considered though, such as secure streaming and secure video storage. Typically to be admissible in court, video and telemetry information needs to be certified as secure, so consumer grade drones may not always be suitable. Companies such as ALX Systems are starting to offer drones with these mandated features as standard.
More than 160 police and fire departments in the US acquired drones during 2016, which is more than in the previous three years combined. In total there are currently around 350 local law enforcement, fire and emergency responder agencies using these flying robots to assist in everyday operations. In Modesto California, a robbery suspect wanted on gun charges was surveilled by a police drone hovering above a residential home. He was apprehended while attempting to hop over a back-yard fence because arresting officers had their “heads up” from higher up.
Crowd control, road traffic management, crime scene surveillance, evidence gathering, suspect pursuit. With many forces the world over needing to manage budgets efficiently, the list of potential uses for drones in policing is long and will probably keep growing.