Football's coming drone – and the beautiful game’s a lot safer for it.
The “eyes in the sky” are proving a police winner in the war to combat trouble at West Midlands matches, a meeting of the Strategic Policy and Crime Board was told.
A drone was visible during October’s Birmingham City v Aston Villa derby, when the national press reported it was the first time the technology had been used at a major match.
In fact, behind the scenes, West Midlands Police’s digital forensic team has made big advances in drone technology.
They have become adept at dismantling criminals’ drones – the favoured means of spiriting contraband into prisons – and finding out who sent them.
“We have proved successful in downloading right to the bedroom where they were dispatched from,” Chief Constable Dave Thompson revealed at the meeting in December.
He outlined the increasing use of drones as crime-fighting weapons, and stressed that officers have only touched on the technology’s full potential.
“We have used them successfully at football matches,” he said. “We’ve also used them in covert arenas and are looking at their support in some specialist functions surrounding firearms.”
In some instances, they are much more cost-effective than police helicopters, the police chief pointed out.
“It is a technology that has moved at a tremendous pace and they are relatively cheap,” he said. “Of course, they are also being used by criminals, particularly to bring drugs into prisons.”
In April, West Midlands Police revealed that £27,000 gained through the Proceeds of Crime Act – basically, money seized from criminals – has been earmarked to train officers to use the new kit.
Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the force explained: “The main uses are open area searches for missing persons, operational awareness at large-scale incidents and events, crime scene assessment and investigation including 3D modelling of crime scenes.”
The drone seen at St Andrew’s Stadium during the Birmingham City v Aston Villa game was capable of flying at 400 feet and equipped with a video camera. It was operated by one officer, with another acting as observer to check it was being used safely.
Aviation rules prevented the drone from flying directly above the ground or too close to people’s homes.
Sergeant Keith Holliday, part of the drone operation, said: “This technology is fantastic and has real benefits to modern day policing. This is first time West Midlands Police have used a drone in policing a big derby game, and it can play an important role in ensuring the safety of the public.
“We have obtained permission from the Civil Aviation Authority and Birmingham Air Traffic Control and, although there are strict rules about how it is used, it will enable us to monitor crowds and any flashpoints.
“A drone can cover a wide area in a short amount of time and capture quality, high definition video in real time.”