The new f ly­ing squad

Rad­i­cal po­lice plan to use drones in hunt for sus­pects – and even de­liver sup­plies to vic­tims cut off by f loods

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By Martin Beck­ford HOME AF­FAIRS ED­I­TOR

A FLEET of high-tech drones could be used to pro­vide emer­gency as­sis­tance to po­lice, fire brigades, the NHS and Bor­der Force of­fi­cials un­der a rad­i­cal new plan, The Mail on Sun­day can re­veal.

An un­manned air force would search for miss­ing peo­ple and sus­pects, pa­trol coasts, de­liver aid to vic­tims of flood or fire and trans­port emer­gency med­i­cal equip­ment.

Known as the Blue­light Air Sup­port Pro­gramme, i t would mas­sively in­crease sur­veil­lance pow­ers and free up po­lice he­li­copters to fo­cus on crit­i­cal tasks such as trans­port­ing of­fi­cers to scenes of ter­ror­ism.

Cheshire Chief Con­sta­ble Si­mon Byrne has de­liv­ered a se­cret re­port on the scheme to the Home Of­fice, and it is hoped Min­is­ters will ap­prove fund­ing to de­velop it fur­ther.

‘ The tech­nol­ogy ex­ists and is in day-to-day use in the mil­i­tary,’ one source told The Mail on Sun­day. ‘Drones can add a lot of value and are much cheaper than he­li­copters. The ques­tion is whether there’s a will to re­place he­li­copters with drones.’

The one- year project was given £ 120,000 by the Po­lice In­no­va­tion Fund to de­liver a ‘proof of con­cept’ for the fu­ture of emer­gency ser­vices air sup­port, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ob­tained by this newspaper.

The Na­tional Po­lice Air Ser­vice (NPAS) met only 42 per cent of the 74,142 re­quests from of­fi­cers for he­li­copter at­ten­dance in 2014- 15, mean­ing there is huge un­met de­mand for an ‘eye in the sky’.

Some forces al­ready use drones, in­clud­ing Devon and Corn­wall, which set up a ded­i­cated unit in July, while fire brigades have used them to sur­vey dam­age, in­clud­ing at the Gren­fell Tower dis­as­ter. But the Blue­light Air Sup­port team be­lieve there is more they could do.

How­ever, Mr Byrne ad­mit­ted his pa­per had ‘caused some emo­tion’ among po­lice chiefs. There has also been scep­ti­cism in the avi­a­tion sec­tor.

NPAS said in a doc­u­ment seen by The Mail on Sun­day that ‘at this time there is nei­ther the avail­able tech­nol­ogy nor leg­is­la­tion to per­mit [the use of drones in this way]’.

A Na­tional Po­lice Chiefs Coun­cil spokesman said: ‘ There has been some early work but the pro­gramme is still in its ini­tial stages.’

EYE IN THE SKY: Drones could take over many tasks from he­li­copters

IN CON­TROL:CON­TROL A An of­fi­cerffi i in Devon op­er­ates a drone ear­lier this year

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