Essex Police in U.K. are using drones more often — from 15 times in 2016 to 420 times in 2019* — with thermal imagery and mapping in law enforcement, and explaining how they have made it work by mapping options and the capability to live stream incidents.
As early as 2016, the Essex Police Department began their drone program in the U.K., and after four years, they have witnessed the tremendous difference their drones can make.
In an interview by DRONELIFE, Essex Police Chief Inspector Darren Deex, was asked for more information about the department’s successful drone program and how it got started.
Darren Deex explained:
“We started researching the operational benefits of using drones after we hired a private company to capture aerial photographs of a Colchester park following a murder investigation in 2014. In 2016, another police force approached us after hearing of our drone capability. We were asked to search a large area of land following an investigation because foot and helicopter searches offered some risk.
This cemented the operational effectiveness of using drones and drone use in the department has grown significantly since.”*
Deex also pointed out:
“Increasing our drone deployment capability has really assisted our frontline officers and staff attending incidents such as high risk missing persons, pursuits where suspects have made off on foot, warrants involving the use of drugs and firearms.”*
How the Force & the Community Embraced the Program
As to the questions, “How has the community embraced police drone use?” and “Do you work to communicate the safety benefits to them?” Deex answered with the following:
“We were initially cautious about how we used drones because of public mistrust: we had found that the helicopters, which have been widely used for years, had more appreciation and support. We have made sure that our drone use is compliant with the legislation and we are logging every flight.
We have been raising awareness of our flights through social media because we want people to know that we are using them to help people and communities and for genuine policing purposes. This has been positively received.”*
Because the Essex Police Department has a large number of trained pilots, they were asked, “How have the officers reacted to the use of drones in the force?” to which Deex answered:
“We have been inundated with requests from officers looking to get trained. The drones have proven their effectiveness and generally police officers come to work to do their job to the best of their ability and if there’s a tool that makes them more effective they want it.
We have certainly noticed a significant increase in the variety of incidents we attend and we are in demand. Drones attend nearly all planned firearms incidents, they are helping to search hard to reach areas on land, by the coast and at sea and our emergency colleagues regularly request our drone support. We are also one of the only forces in the UK that can fly within the grounds of an airport.”*
Deex also shares that in addition, the Essex Police Department has also done the following:
“. . . shared learning and experiences with many other emergency services and . . . made flights for various other agencies for a variety of reasons.
have found that the Civil Aviation Authority have been incredibly helpful, proactive and permissive in our use of drones. We had a really good first audit with them and this gave us the confidence to know that we were flying responsibly and lawfully.”*
He stated further that “They now have 36 police officers and staff around Essex who are trained in the use of drones.”*
Essex Police are using drones much more often, with thermal imagery, mapping options and the capability to live stream incidents and they currently have 36 police officers and staff around Essex who are trained in the use of drones.
In addition, the Police Department is now investing in technology which may enable drones to fly within buildings.
This Police Department is an impressive example of investing in the latest technology to be as effective and efficient as they can be in carrying out their very important service to their community.