LBC News take an inside look into a police drone team

28 October 2019, 11:10

By Andy Ballantyne

LBC News has been given exclusive access to the UK's first dedicated drone team at Devon and Cornwall Police.

The police’s eye-in-the-sky has become an invaluable tool since the introduction of a full-time dedicated drone team in 2017, the first of its kind in the UK, they have saved countless lives.

In June 2018, one high risk missing person was found semi-conscious at the top of cliffs within eight minutes of being airborne.

From tracking fleeing criminals, finding missing or injured people, helping firefighters tackle fires – the police drone team is ready for anything.

This time we were the eyes for the Devon derby football match between Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle.

The fixture has had problems in the past from both sets of fans, in September 2018, fans from both sides were convicted of a mass punch-up in the city centre, with punches thrown and glass bottles smashed as violence moved into the street.

One of the police drones used by the tri-counties team
One of the police drones used by the tri-counties team. Picture: Alliance Pol Drones @PoliceDrones

This year the match would see more than 100 officers in and around St James Park, supervising 8,000 supporters.

Opposing City and Argyle fans are kept apart in the city with the drone providing coverage from commanders watching the live quality feedback at the operations base.

Police decided to use containment methods to escort a large contingent of fans from the train station and then some from pubs to the ground.

By sixty minutes Plymouth Argyle was three-nil down and with the blustery conditions and rain, many had decided to call it a day and head home.

One of the police drone operators
One of the police drone operators. Picture: Alliance Pol Drones @PoliceDrones

The drones are weather dependent and for us, it was a waiting game for a break in the cloud and for the rain to stop, which it did eventually just after 2pm.

Within seconds one drone was at its height limit of 120 metres, looking at the pitch which was around 300 metres away.

It focused on the exit and any large gatherings of supporters tracking their movements and making sure both sets of supporters were kept apart.

As the three coaches and two minibuses were escorted away from the ground, we could track them for more than 2 miles as they headed out of the city.

This time there was no disorder in the ground or in the immediate vicinity.

There were pockets of disorder and rowdiness and a flare was set off outside the Chevalier pub where Argyle fans drank before the game.

One arrest was made for a public order offence.

Having the drone enables police to oversee and manage the area; the drone is quiet and invisible and is being used more and more as a tool to keep us safe and to save resources.

This insight shows how reliance on new technology is helping police manage situations remotely and allowing the video and live feed from the drone as to how they police certain incidents.

More than fifty officers are licensed to fly drones across the three forces, and they have access to mini-drones which can be airborne within minutes of arriving.

Before 2017, the only other option was to mobilise the force helicopter, which compared to the drone was expensive and time-consuming.

For the future they would like a dedicated team in Cornwall to have 24-hour, 7 days a week cover and also a drone that can fly in all weather conditions as at the moment weather limits their flying time.

Police drone operators with LBC News reporter Andy Ballantyne
Police drone operators with LBC News reporter Andy Ballantyne. Picture: Alliance Pol Drones @PoliceDrones

The UK Drone Code:

* D on’t fly near airports or airfields

* R emember to stay below 400ft (120m)

* O bserve your drone at all times – stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property

* N ever fly near aircraft

* E njoy responsibly

In October 2018 the UK drone rules changed to make it against the law to fly above 400ft (120m) and to make it against the law to fly your drone within 1km of an airport or airfield boundary.