England’s Norfolk police embrace drone use big time

Norfolk police drone

Cops in the eastern England city of Norfolk have gotten with the aerial tech program in a big way. After introducing drones into its operational assets less than three years ago, Norfolk’s police force deployed the craft in nearly 1,500 missions in the past year.

In its annual activity report spanning 2020-2021, the Norfolk Constabulary said it had flown its drones in police work or in support of fire services 1,484 times, compared to 657 during the first full year of operating the craft. Missions ranged from monitoring COVID-19 restriction compliance to detecting illegal marijuana farms, and halting wildlife abuse to searches for missing people. Officials said those sorties included 329 pre-planned flights, and 1,226 in response to reports of ongoing crimes like burglary, car theft, firearm offenses, or staging of unauthorized music events.

Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner Giles Orpen-Smellie applauded the increased police use of drones, and said he plans to expand those in the future. 

“The deployment figures represent further increases over the past 12 months with significant demand for missing persons and supporting specialist teams investigating crime,” Orpen-Smellie said in a report by the UK’s Eastern Daily Press. “One new area of work has been the introduction of new technology that enables 3D modelling of crime scenes to support serious and major crime investigation.”

Orpen-Smellie said the only real brake on what was a logical and natural growth in the situations UAV were deployed in were laws prohibiting beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) by law officials as they do the general public. He said he’d continue working with other police commissioners to push for an exemption of BVOLS drone operations for police, which would allow for a widened range of use by cops in Norfolk and around the UK. 

Norfolk Constabulary currently has 22 fully trained UAV pilots, and a fleet of 20 drones. Eight of those craft, however, are used exclusively for training the force’s expanding ranks of operators – numbers revealing the heavy demand placed upon craft flown for active official missions.

The force has said it plans on investing in additional police craft, including fix-wing planes for expanded mission duration and range (assuming BVOLS restrictions are eased). It is also moving to procure craft specifically adapted for indoor deployment, and to put qualified cops through additional training for contained-space flights. 

Orpen-Smellie said fully 80 drone outings by Norfolk police were in searches of older or otherwise vulnerable people, including a trapped elderly man who probably would not have been found otherwise.

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