Lincolnshire Police began work on implementing drones in March 2017. The then new Chief Constable Bill Skelly had been impressed by what he had seen in his previous force; Devon and Cornwall who had been one of the early adopters and pioneers of UAVs. Drones for Lincolnshire were to be part of a new strategy to use technology at the forefront of our approach to tackling rural crime with a focus on hare coursing. A period of research followed during which it quickly became apparent that the benefits to operational policing extended far beyond the original scope of the project.
Our first drone went live in Lincoln with two officers trained in September of 2017 and a second unit was placed at Boston in November of that year. The force utilises DJI Inspire 1 airframes that can be equipped with either 4K zoom or wide angle fixed lens’ or a high definition thermal imaging camera. The battery allows approximately 15 minutes of flight, however it takes 30 seconds to change and in most instances the task is completed without the need to swap. Each operational kit, including enough batteries for a combined flight time of 2hrs and the cameras has cost the force approximately £11k. To put that figure into context the cost to Lincolnshire police to deploy a helicopter is £2,800 per hour!
DJI Inspire 1
To give a flavour of the myriad of uses, we have provided over watch at Lincoln City FC games, planned public protests and the Lincoln Christmas Market. At each of these events the footage was ‘downlinked’ live to force control room at Nettleham allowing senior commanders to make better informed decisions in real time. The drones have provided detailed aerial images of the most serious crime scenes; from murder to fatal road collisions giving investigators and jury’s a unique perspective. In one case it prevented the need for the jury to attend the scene of the crime saving an entire day.
Lincoln Christmas Market
The kit has proved invaluable as a debriefing tool during public order and firearms training. This has allowed officers to identify tactical errors and best practice that can be worked on in subsequent lessons. In fact footage filmed during a recent terrorist attack simulation at Lincoln College is now being used to train specialist firearms officers around the UK.
We have worked with Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue to provide an aerial overview of major fire events. Most recently at a recycling plant where our footage showed the extent of the roof damage and gave the Environment Agency vital information about the size, height and direction of the potentially hazardous smoke plume.
Assisting Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue
The thermal camera has been put to use following up on intelligence reports of cannabis factories. The immense lighting rigs required by criminals shows clearly and gives them nowhere to hide. The first ever tasking the unit undertook in 2017 which confirmed a viable heat source in a remote farm house recently resulted in the conviction of the owner for growing £50,000 worth of drugs. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison.
Our drones have successfully managed to find suspects trying evade the police . A great example is a burglary suspect who had run from police in the dead of night. He thought that he was well hidden in some allotments, but within 30 seconds of the thermal equipped drone taking flight he was easily found lying on the ground. His body was clearly showing as bright white against the cold grass. An officer no more than 25m away had no idea he was there. Needless to say when the suspect saw the red front navigation lights of the drone pointing directly at him he got to his knees and gave up!
By far and away the most satisfying use of the drone is to save life. In February 2016 a car had rolled in a ditch on a rural stretch of the A16. The driver apparently had wandered away but was nowhere to be found despite a search of the area by officers using torches and handheld thermal cameras. A drone was requested and on taking flight saw a faint but distinct heat source in a ditch at the side of the road nearly 500m from the crash. Officers climbed down in the bottom of the 6’ deep trench which was half filled with water and found the driver; unconscious, hypothermic and with a head injury. There is little doubt that without the drone that night the driver would not have survived.
Often the drone is able to save countless officer hours. In the case of a missing person elderly lady with dementia who had not been seen in three days in Nottinghamshire, our officers provided drone support. The ability to search the wide open fields where she was last seen speeded up the process and meant that officers on foot were better tasked and found her that day dehydrated but alive. The head police search advisor praised the drone and didn’t mince his words when he said that it would have taken at least another 24 hours of search to find her at which point she might not have lived.
The dedicated officers who form the unit volunteer for the role in addition to their normal day job as response police officers. They carry the equipment in the back of their police cars on patrol, day in day out. In this way we are able to make the best use of our kit, making it available 24/7. This approach is unique in the UK but crucially provides us the best possible coverage and shortest possible response times.