West Midlands Police is now using drones to target criminals and help keep you safe. Fitted with the latest high definition cameras and thermal imaging technology, the kit is helping cops cover more ground on their patrols. Funds from the Proceeds of Crime Act – cash raised from assets seized from criminals convicted at court – paid for the ten drones and 24 pilots that we've trained to use them. The act forbids the cash to be used to fund officers. We’ve put together a list of answers to the most frequently asked questions to explain how, why and when we plan to use the drones.
What are drones?
Drones - also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) - are miniature aircraft controlled from the ground by a pilot.
Why is West Midlands Police using drones?
We’re using drones as a tactic to target criminals and help keep the public safe.
How will the use of drones benefit the public and keep you safe?
Drones will be used to help give officers a mobile eye in the sky, meaning we can scan large areas in a very short time.
Examples where we use drones include filming crime scenes, providing live feeds direct from major incidents or football games and protests.
We also use them to hunt for criminals in large, hard to reach areas like parkland, canal and tow paths, as well as to help in missing person searches
Are they being used to spy on the general public?
Absolutely not. Drones are only being used as an extra resource to target criminals operating in public places. It’s a mobile equivalent to CCTV. Strict legislation governs the use of drones – including their use by the police. All of the data is encrypted for security.
Where will they be used?
Drones will be used in crime hotspots to target criminals, areas where serious incidents have taken place for us to capture vital evidence and during pre-planned operations to help keep people safe and secure.
How many drones do WMP own?
We use two different kinds of drones for day-to-day operational policing which can take photographs, live-link or recorded video and thermal images, and we own ten drones.
How much did each drone cost?
Funds through the Asset Recovery Fund paid for our 10 drones, and for our 45 pilots to be trained. Our drones cost between £2,000 and £10,000.
What is POCA?
POCA stands for Proceeds of Crime Act. A piece of legislation which allows police to seize any financial assets owned by criminals. It means that the drones were paid for by convicted criminal’s cash.
Who pilot’s the drones?
We have 24 specially qualified and trained officers and staff, providing 24/7 coverage across the region.
Are the officers trained?
Yes. Each of the qualified officers have been trained under CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) regulations.
How loud are the drones?
The drones are quieter – and less expensive to run – than the police helicopter. The noise volume is similar to that of a large fan. The drones will one be used for short periods of time, usually about 15 minutes to minimise any noise concerns.
How big are the drones?
Our drones vary in size depending on the equipment they have attached and their role. The smallest has four rotor blades and the largest has six.
How high can the drone fly and stay in the air?
The drone can be legally flown to a maximum height of 400ft (120m). This limit is set by the CAA so drones do not interfere with aircraft which operate just above at 500ft.
Each drone is powered by rechargeable batteries and fully charged these can allow flight from between 20-45 minutes.
What is the maximum speed of the drone?
The drones operated by WMP have varying speeds. The two larger drones have a maximum horizontal speed of 25mp/h (40km/h) and the smallest has a maximum horizontal speed of 40mp/h (65km/h).
Do the drones comply with UK Law?
Yes. We comply with all UK law as determined by the Civil Aviation Authority with regards to the use of the drones. As part of the governance of such aircraft, WMP has to obtain permission to fly from the CAA as any other commercial organisation. We also have to comply with strict rules to how and where the drone is flown in relation to other parties including people on the ground and other airspace users.
How can we get involved?
We promote good air etiquette and work with our partners at the Civil Aviation Authority and Birmingham International Airport. For further information about drones please visit the CAA website or www.dronesafe.uk
Is there a Twitter account?
You can follow everything the drone team get up to by following @DronesWMP on Twitter.
I’m unhappy about the police drone flying in my area. Who can I tell?
Use the feedback section on our website to give share your views. To complain about non-police drones causing a nuisance in your area, you should report this to the Civil Aviation Authority via their website.
What is the range between controller and drone?
The drones must follow all Civil Aviation Authority regulations and fly within 500m of the pilot. The drones cannot fly outside of the pilot’s line of sight unless a second pilot is used.
When were the drones purchased?
Our drones were purchased between 2017 and 2021. We ensure they are the latest drones to enable us to offer the best service to the communities we police.
How do you charge the drones?
Each drone has lithium-polymer battery. Batteries can be charged either in buildings or on police vehicles.
How long is data kept?
Recording only takes place if it is requested by the officer in charge and is absolutely necessary. Videos and photographs are kept only kept for the duration of the investigation and complies with all data protection laws.
How do we decide when to use the drones?
The drones will be proactively used to help target criminals in areas where we see a rise in crime reports. We will also continue to deploy the drones to major crime scenes and to help monitor pre-planned and spontaneous events.
Do you comply with the guiding principles of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice?
Yes, we have completed the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) self-assessment tool to ensure that our use of drones complies with the Code of Practice. You can download a copy of our report to find out more.