Drones to be drafted in by police in fight against crime

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Drone warfare could soon be declared on criminals.

Durham Constabulary has applied for authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to use the two devices it owns in the fight against crime.

Officers say if approved, they will help carry out reconnaissance on buildings and locations believed to be used by organised crime gangs.

They could also prove a life saver in the search for missing people, with plans to adapt its camera so it can seek out heat, helping to pick up people in undergrowth and difficult terrain.

The camera gear, which must be within 500 metres of the operating officer and in their line of sight, may be drafted in to carry out sweeps ahead of royal visits, monitor traffic incidents and hover over crowds at events such as the Lumiere light festival.

The kit - an off-the-shelf unit which cost £800 and a bespoke version which has cost £2,500 - was bought after Sergeant Peter Hoole, who uses a drone as a hobby, suggested it to his bosses.

Inspector Mick Button with one of Durham Constabulary's drones.

Inspector Mick Button with one of Durham Constabulary's drones.

Now, more than two years on, the unmanned aerial vehicles could join the force’s helicopter if the aircraft is not available or cannot be used in poor weather.

Durham is believed to be the first force in the region to be using the gear and says it is looking at gadgets as it adapts to how criminals are committing offences.

Assistant chief officer Gary Ridley said: “More and more, policing is going to rely on technology.

“As well as for policing purposes, we can share information our with our partners.

This is still in its early stages for Durham, but this is something we are going to develop over time.

Gary Ridley

“This is still in its early stages for Durham, but this is something we are going to develop over time.”

The force says all its activities will adhere to the strict rules set out by the CAA and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) which covers how public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation.

Inspector Mick Button said: “There may be times for example where we can use it to search for electricity extraction linked to a cannabis grow.

“It might be at the have a prominent member of the royal family or the prime minister visiting and we need to establish a secure footprint of where they will visit.

“We might employ staff to do a search.

“This can be sent up and do a search of the roof space withing 10 minutes.”

The force will mainly use a MUVI X-Drone from Veho, once permission is granted, which can record 1080p high definition video and take 16MP photos using the stabilised and controllable on-board camera.

It can be flown using the an app on either IOS or Android and fly for up to 20 minutes at a time.

An in-built GPS function means the drone can return to its launch point if control is lost, or if it detects a low battery.