To British law enforcement, getting access to drones isn't merely a nice option to have.
Rather, it's becoming a necessity in a world in which they're fighting an increasingly tech-savvy criminal element that's started to use unmanned vehicles to steal and create havoc, Engadget.com reported.
British scofflaws who in the past would tried to sneak through turnstiles or print counterfeit tickets have been caught using the unmanned drones to film soccer matches without paying.
Criminals have also been caught using them to smuggle narcotics, cell phones, and weapons into prisons.
And now, police say they will use drones of their own to combat crime. The Sussex and Surrey Police force
has received close to 250,000 pounds (about $371,000) from Britain's Home Office to purchase five drones and see how they can help officers in the field.
Sussex and Surrey Police have experimented with drones before at Gatwick Airport, about 30 miles south of London. In some cases, officials said, they proved to be a faster, safer, and cheaper alternative to regular officers.
Authorities plan to use them to help search for missing persons and provide assistance in handling air, road, and railroad crashes.
The use of drones by law enforcement is sure to create controversy, especially with British authorities tightening regulations on recreational drone use.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry, whose portfolio includes the joint operations department for the Surrey and Sussex Police, said drones "can go to places where it is unsafe for officers and can gather evidence quickly that could be vital in an investigation or that could help us deploy officers to the right places at the right time, potentially allowing us to make life-saving decisions."
For guidance, British law enforcement officials may be looking at the situation in Grand Forks, North Dakota, a town near the Canadian border with a population of 50,000 and a fleet of four drones.
In October, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported
that the drones were used in missions that included searches for drowning victims, and the rescue of a man who suffered a concussion in a car accident and wandered away from the scene.
In other instances, they were used to pursue a pair of criminal suspects who escaped from a local jail and to help authorities investigate the rape of two students in their college apartment.
Jay Stanley, an expert on technology-related privacy issues at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Guardian that so far the small number of U.S. police forces with drones appeared to have been using them responsibly. But he warned they could cause problems in the future.
"Whenever there's a powerful new technology —
license plate readers are a good example —
the police vigorously adopt it. And they often try to keep it secret," Stanley said.
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