This summer, Devon and Cornwall Police, UK, are set to launch the first 24-hour drone unit to assist with crime fighting.
The ‘flying squad’, as it is informally known, will supposedly assist police with finding missing people and helping to solve murders.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry, the UK National Police Chief’s Council lead on drones, told the Daily Mail that forces across Britain may soon be using them as they are cheaper than helicopters and can perform some of the duties of a policeman on the beat.
There are concerns, however, regarding privacy and whether drones may eventually come to replace officers due to cutbacks.
Devon and Cornwall Police, which covers the largest geographic area of any force in England, is currently advertising for a drone manager to lead the new unit.
Sussex and Surrey police forces are also said to be considering whether to expand their use of drones from part-time operations by officers to a full-time unit.
21 forces across the country are known to be experimenting with the technology to carry out duties such as everyday search missions to the monitoring of VIPs, such as those used during royal engagements for the Duchess of Cambridge.
The thinking is that drone fleets can be dispatched much quicker than police units and can therefore cover more ground.
Dorset police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill told the Mail that drones “have the capability to revolutionize the way we police…There is no reason why [they] can’t become as familiar a sight as patrol cars, a police helicopter or an officer on the beat.”
Rationalizing UK police forces
Assistant chief constable Steve Barry told the Mail that the use of drone units may present an opportunity for chiefs to ‘rationalize’ their forces.
“I would not be at all surprised if other forces follow in due course – the question is not whether they will, it’s when,” he said.
“There may be an opportunity at some point in the future to rationalize what we need our cops to do because we find drones can do it more effectively and more cost-efficiently … an example of that would be looking for missing people.
“That opportunity has not yet manifested. There will be a point where that question gets asked. I think it’s a brave senior officer who will make that step that is going to cut cops because they have got drones.”
“If delivering the best service within the budget means using drones for something, a cop is now free to go to that burglary. It’s about freeing resources,” he concluded.
However, chief superintendent Jim Nye, strategic alliance commander for operations in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, said there were no plans to cut officer numbers.