Police Drones Play Important Role in Henley Regatta Surveillance

The use of drones are now a key part of Thames Valley Police operations to assist with surveillance and investigations and this year during Henley Royal Regatta around 70 hours of footage was taken (short clip above).

At a TVP media day last week, our Editor saw a demonstration of current models of drones being used as well as a preview of future drones and Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) that they are working with manufacturers and Civil Aviation Authority to deploy which will mean an increase in flying time and distance covered.  These include drones which would be stationed on top of buildings that are self-charging and can be remotely deployed.

Drones are a specialist capability within Joint Operations Unit (JOU) with Hampshire Police, utilising trained officers from Armed Response Vehicles (ARV), Roads Policing Unit (RPU), Force Proactive Teams, Protection Group and Rural Crime teams. There are 50 drones in operation across the JOU and 100 pilots trained. They can operate day and night and during moderate winds and rain and fog providing the pilot can maintain visual sight of the drone unlike helicopters who can’t fly in some weather conditions. They have a variety of camera capabilities including high resolution, thermal imaging, enhanced zoom and can create 3D mapping/modelling of a crime scene.

Since being trialled in 2019, drones have demonstrated capabilities to locate missing people and suspects, provide aerial containments during warrants or situational overviews for public order deployments and have identified a number of cannabis factories.

Police Inspector Guy Summers said, “We also work with the fire and ambulance services and we can send a link to the footage anywhere in the world.  The drones for example can show the hot spots in a burning building for the fire service through thermal imagery.  Deploying a drone is really efficient, environmentally friendly and can save us money.  We are working closely with industry and the regulators for future capabilities. Technology is ever changing.  We will be doing due diligence on safety at every stage.”

As well as surveillance by drones at big events like Henley Royal Regatta, TVP are now using Super Recognisers who have extremely good facial recognition ability. It is estimated that 1 – 2% of the population are Super Recognisers and are able to remember 80% of faces, whereas the average person can only remember 20% of faces. In 2015, the Metropolitan Police formed a dedicated, full-time Super Recogniser unit to assist with all manner of investigations, from low level theft to high profile terrorist offences. Super Recognisers were called upon to assist with the investigation of the Novichock poisonings in Salisbury in 2018. They identified two suspects responsible after scouring hours of CCTV footage.  They are now used at large events like Henley Royal Regatta to provide an enhanced degree of assurance around offender identification.

Also at the media day there was a demonstration from the Crime Scene Investigation unit to show how they would plan to approach the crime scene, photographing evidence, in what order they would test items for DNA/fingerprints, how they swab for DNA and dust for fingerprints as well as taking casts of tyre treads and footprints. Doron Jensen said, “Police have the power to take suspects shoes so we can match these with the casts which show unique nicks and damage to footwear.”

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