Five ways how drones can help police operations

27 February 2015

Drones may soon be found outside the scanner of Minority Report’s dystopia, or controlling “the real world” outside The Matrix, and come to police forces in the UK. In a recent blog article from Deloitte, some pros and cons of drone deployment in policing are considered.

A recent article by James Lawson, consultant at Deloitte, reflects on Deloitte’s recent TMT Prediction that 2015 will see a million drone units in the skies, and considers how they could come to transform the way authorities track individuals in the act of policing. 

Drones present an alternative to the UK forces’ 20 helicopters it has access to through the National Police Air Service. While Helicopters have powerful capabilities, they are expensive to maintain, and are mainly deployed in high stakes or high value operations. Drones, according to Lawson, present a flexible alternative, which could make a more regular part of policing – with trails already running at Gatwick and other locations.

Drones expected to be sold

Laweson’s blog article considers five ways in which drones might make a difference in policing as well as noting challenges, a summary:

Locating suspects and vehicle pursuit
Drones might be useful in pursuit situations – whether from robbery suspects fleeing crimes scenes or from vehicles that fail to stop. They can be deployed in systematic ground searches where patrol resources are limited or footage of car pursuits could be used in court proceedings. 

Public order
Drones may be useful in monitoring and control for large public order events. Hot spots in which trouble is brewing could be quickly located, as well as finding signs of violence or vulnerable bystanders being trampled in a crowed.  


Search and rescue
Searching and rescue operations may be boosted by drone deployment. The devices can cover ground quickly, and assist ground units. They might be useful in responding to natural disasters, such as floods. Or they may ferry live saving equipment into hard to reach zones. 

Targeted Patrols and intelligence gathering
Drones may be useful for reconnaissance and deterrence, thus another tool in the crime prevention kit. The arrival of drones may scare off criminal activity, and legally approved covert patrols could gather evidence on organised crime groups, and dangerous suspects.

High risk response
Drones may be able to assist in high risk situation such as bomb disposal. Sensors may be able to detect CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) threats. With small and agile drones providing a tactical edge in raids and fire arm operations. 

Deloitte - Impact that Matters

Problems from drones
Lawson notes that while drones provide potential benefits to policing, they too come with their own kinds of risks. They should “like all technology implementations”, be deployed strategically to meet requirements and not indiscriminately, “accompanied by appropriate organisational and process change.” The legislation that defines the context in which they can be deployed is still evolving. Particularly safety, civil liberties and privacy concerns in the use of potentially powerful tool still needs to be rigorously checked and balanced by relevant stakeholders across society. Their advance will “need to be carefully controlled in line with government policy around the wider use of drones, and in accordance with HMIC/Home Office guidance on police tactics.” Counter drones may too be deployed by the criminal element, with forces needing to be ready to inhibit and mitigate the use of drones by “cartels using drones to transport contraband, or terrorist attacks delivered by drones.”