Use of drones

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As part of its alliance Devon & Cornwall Police and Dorset Police have been utilising drones since 2015. Both forces were early adopters of the technology and the alliance created the first UK Police Drone Team.

Drone teamDue to the innovative approach to policing, the team were nominated as finalists in the World Class Policing Awards 2019.

Drones support our policing activity; the equipment is fitted with high resolution cameras and thermal capabilities to help us target criminals and help keep you safe.

Our Drone Team consists of 3 full time officers, but there are another 43 officers and Police staff trained within both forces who can utilise the equipment.

This page is designed to give you more information about our use of drones and answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

Frequently asked questions:

What is a drone?

Drones are unmanned aircraft that are controlled remotely – they are more formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Are drones a replacement to the National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter?

Drone technology offers a highly cost-effective approach to missing person searches, crime scene photography, and responding to major road traffic collisions, but is not seen as a replacement to the NPAS helicopter.

How do they work?

Most drones rely on battery powered electric motors although they can be mechanically powered as well. The drones have a HD (high definition) downlink which means officers on the ground can see live video captured by the drone in the air. The video can also be shared with commanders in our force control rooms.

The operator is able to choose when to record video or images for review or retention later; the drone is not recording all the time it is in flight unless specifically required to do so.

Drone repairAre your drone pilots appropriately trained?

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations state that drone operators must pass a national CAA accredited qualification which all our operators have passed. Our Drone Team instructors ensure that all our operators receive regular CPD training and there is an established governance and safety system in place to monitor operations.

How do you deploy drones and how often are they used?

We use drones in a variety of Policing contexts. The technology allows us to cover larger areas with less officers, to obtain images and information from different angles and to get views of areas where it would be dangerous to send a person. Some examples include:

  • capturing evidential images at crimes scenes and scenes of road traffic collisions,
  • searching for missing people and offenders,
  • supporting incidents where people are in dangerous positions or in hazardous terrain, and,
  • supporting partner agencies such as the fire brigade.

In 2019 drones were deployed to support 354 incidents or investigations within Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (356 incidents in 2018).

Drone at night

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How many drones do you operate?

At the time of writing we have 31 drones in operation across the Alliance. They are distributed across both forces so that suitably trained officers can take them out on patrol and deploy them when required.

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Civil Aviation AuthorityWhere can the Police fly drones?

All our drone operations are conducted in compliance with the relevant legislation and are overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).  We have been given a permission for commercial operation (PfCO) which allows us to fly in congested areas, and permits the overflight of people/premises, provided other conditions and minimum separation distances are met.

More information about the rules and regulations please visit the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations site

What about my privacy?

Under common law police officers and staff can make a recording and do not require your consent. However, operators will only record and keep data when it is proportionate, legitimate and necessary.

If data is captured and none of the retention requirements are met it will be deleted as soon as possible.

What happens to the data captured by the drones?

Drone data is handled in accordance with our existing data handling policies. It is effectively mobile CCTV. Strict legislation governs how we capture, store and retain data.

Data is only kept for as long as is necessary for a policing purpose or as mandated by other regulations.

Can I get access to any police drone footage of me?

Subject to certain exemptions, you have a right to be told whether any information is held about you and a right to a copy of that information. For more information about accessing the data please select HERE.

Do you comply with the principles of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice?

Yes, the Alliance was among the first Police forces in the UK to gain formal accreditation regarding our use of drones. We are audited annually to ensure that we remain compliant.

How do I make a complaint about the police use of drones or a Police drone operator?

For information on how to make a complaint please select here.

How can I keep up to date with the team's work?

Our Drone Team has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We warmly invite you to follow our accounts so that you can keep informed about how we are deploying the technology and some of the good results we have had.

I’m thinking about getting a drone, where can I learn how to use it safely and legally?

When using a drone you are sharing the air with manned aviation and so safety is paramount. Flying a drone in contravention of the regulations is a criminal offence for which you can be prosecuted. Therefore, you should study the rules carefully before flying for the first time - all of the information can be found on the CAA website HERE.

We understand that the regulations can appear complicated and so we have developed our ‘safer drones’ courses to help ensure everyone can enjoy drones safely and legally. For more information, please check the ‘safer drones’ page here. We hope to see you at a course soon.

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