Surrey and Sussex Police have been awarded almost £250,000 to expand a trial to see how the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could help keep people safe and assist with the investigation of crime.
The Home Office has awarded the forces the money from the Police Innovation Fund, which rewards creative, collaborative and cost-saving projects aimed at transforming policing.
The funding will be used to purchase five more UAVs to use in Surrey and Sussex to see how they can be used to improve policing across the country.
UAVs can be used to gather evidence from the air, such as at the scene of road, rail or air crashes, can help with searches for missing or wanted people and can help to capture a broad picture of activities on the ground, such as the spread of flooding, the movement of people during public disorder or events at an armed incident.
A trial of a UAV at Gatwick Airport last year showed that the equipment could provide a faster, safer and cheaper alternative to officer-led patrols in some circumstances.
They can cover a distance seven times quicker than officers on foot and can be used in conditions where it is unsafe for helicopters to fly or officers to go, such as smoky environments or when hazardous chemicals or materials have been spilled.
With the new UAVs, officers will study the most effective ways the equipment can be used and draw up guides for other forces about their use in different conditions and environments.
They will also help develop a training package for officers so that they can be accredited to use the equipment and assess whether more forces should invest in the technology.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry, whose portfolio includes the joint Operations department for Surrey and Sussex Police, said: “Some of the benefits have already been demonstrated during the relatively short period that we have had the equipment for.
“They can go to places where it is unsafe for officers and can gather evidence quickly that could be vital in an investigation or that could help us deploy officers to the right places at the right time, potentially allowing us to make life-saving decisions.
“This is not about providing cut-price policing but about using technology to enhance the way we work. UAVs could prove extremely useful during a range of incidents and I am delighted the extra funding from the Home Office means we can explore more closely exactly what they can do.”
Policing Minister Mike Penning said: “This year’s successful bid have once again demonstrated how well police forces can work together to come up with forward-thinking, creative and original projects.
“Crime has fallen by more than a fifth under this Government. By working together, utilising modern technology and embracing new ideas, the police can do their job even better.
“While we are not suggesting that UAVs should replace police officers in everyday situations, early findings of this work suggests new technology could transform the police’s response in certain difficult or dangerous situations.
“This year’s successful bids to the Police Innovation Fund will build upon the work we have already funded to further improve efficiency, save forces money and ultimately provide greater value and a better service for the taxpayer.”
The Police Innovation Fund was launched last year. Every force in England and Wales received a share of £50 million in 2014/15. Forces estimate projects supported to date by the Police Innovation Fund will have saved taxpayers almost £250m once they have been up and running for five years.