High-tech police drones with thermal imaging are being deployed across the West Midlands, paid for using money previously seized from criminals.
West Midlands Police drones have got off to a flying start since taking to the skies nine months ago, helping in the arrest of almost 100 criminal suspects and locating lots of missing people.
The force launched the drones as a resource last October, and have now completed around 300 flying hours in the support of police operations across the West Midlands.
They have been used to gather intelligence on illegal street racers and drugs factories, whilst also helping the police keep people safe during large protests and sporting events.
West Midlands Police have seven drones − six DJI Mavics and 1 DJI Matrice − piloted by 22 specially trained officers.
The new eyes-in-the-sky were also recently equipped with state-of-the-art thermal imaging cameras, which means they can help during night-time police operations.
It’s also bad news for drugs offenders. Drug factories need lots of heat and light to grow their illegal crop, which means properties housing drugs farms light-up like beacons on the heat-seeking cameras.
Last month, a drone deployed in part of the region picked up a large heat source coming from a disused pub. Officers found a drug factory inside with 600 plants valued at over £500,000.
Sergeant Keith Bennett is the lead officer for drones at West Midlands Police. He said: “They have proved invaluable. They have helped in the search for more than 250 missing people and also assisted in the arrest of more than 90 crime suspects.
“They can cover ground so much more quickly than officers on foot. It’s no exaggeration to say they may well have saved lives of missing people, and have also saved lots of police time locating suspects.
“Much like a helicopter, drones are equipped with high resolution, thermal cameras but are a lower-cost option with a smaller carbon footprint.”
But the drones also have other uses, as Sgt Bennett went on to explain.
“We have also used imagery from drones to create aerial reconstructions of serious crime scenes,” he added, “which are used in court as part of prosecutions.
“The images give juries a clear picture of the crime scene and help them understand the prosecution case.”
Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Waheed Saleem commented: “Our drones, paid for using money previously seized from criminals, are now helping bring others to justice.
“They are an excellent addition to police kit in the fight against crime and can be used when it isn’t practical to have a helicopter near a scene
“Drones are being used to keep the public safe and catch criminals using proceeds from ill-gotten gains of others.”