Sussex Police have been awarded almost £250,000 to expand a trial to see how the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could help 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 Sussex and Surrey to see how they can be used to improve policing across the country.
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.
A UAV 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.
They can also 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.
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.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry said: “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.”
He added: “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: “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.”
The move has also been welcomed by the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, who said: “The subject of UAVs has been a hot topic both locally and nationally. I am delighted that Sussex Police will be at the forefront of setting the standards for how this new technology will be used by all forces to help cut crime and improve safety.”