Police will use trial drones as first responders in emergency situations

Police are planning to use state-of-the-art drones as first responders in emergencies with trials starting next year across the UK.

Initial trials under Project Eagle X will begin in Norfolk, which has limited access to police helicopters because they are stationed so far away.

Further trials will also take place at Thames Valley Police and in Hampshire, and if successful, the devices will be placed in buildings and operated remotely to be sent to scenes first and relay early information to police.

Police in England and Wales are working with officers in the US as similar trials have taken place in San Diego.

Drones as first response (DFR) devices are also to be tested in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Neil Sexton, who advises the National Council of Chief Police Officers on the use of drones, said: “The DFR is a drone that sits autonomously on a roof somewhere in a city and it's in a box, it's protected.

“From a control station receiving a 999 call, it can be launched completely remotely, flying over an incident to gain situational awareness that will be fed back not only to that control station or control room, but also to the first responders who are going to to reach the ground”.

The hope is that the drone would give more accurate information about the likely scale of an incident than a potentially shocked member of the public who has called 999 and get there faster than a helicopter.

“The ability to take a remote aircraft over an incident is still being developed to gain better situational awareness [is] much improved after phone calls from members of the public under pressure,” Mr Sexton said.

“Sitting on top, he can tell straight away if you're talking about a major road traffic collision requiring three fire engines and four ambulances, or if it's a little skit and someone's getting too excited.”

Currently, police forces in England and Wales use around 400 drones that cannot fly beyond the operator's line of sight.

There are plans to amend these rules to allow police operators to do so, with initial trials taking place in areas of closed airspace next year.

The force is also planning much wider use of retrospective facial recognition technology, with chiefs proposing to double its use by May.

The biometric software, which has been hailed as a major step forward for policing like DNA analysis, is being used to compare images from sources such as CCTV with the force's databases of custody shots.

Britain's biggest police force, the Metropolitan Police, has already said it will use the software to catch prolific shoplifters caught on CCTV.

South Wales Police, one of the forces pioneering the use of live and retrospective facial recognition, also uses software that can be used by officers on their mobile phones.

About 50 officers currently have access to an app on their phones that allows them to take a photo of a suspect and compare it to the force's mugshot database.

If the trial is successful, the system could be rolled out across England and Wales.