Police in the south-west of England are set to launch a new drone unit this summer which aims to help tackle crime – an initiative which could soon be mirrored across the UK.

Amid warnings of a national shortage of detectives, Devon and Cornwall Police hope that the 24-hour team will support police officers during major crime investigations, searching for missing people, responding to road traffic accidents, and capturing aerial photographs of crime scenes for example.

The police force, which covers the largest geographic area of any other force in England, is currently looking for a drone team manager to help set up and manage an ‘operational and dynamic’ drone response unit. The service will cover nine police departments across the two counties, as well as neighbouring Dorset.

Devon and Cornwall Police first started testing the drones in November 2015 to ensure that they would operate effectively to support police investigations. The trials involved four DJI Inspire 1 aerial devices with high-definition cameras.

The devices were first used in the hunt for a missing woman, in coordination with police dogs and members of a local rescue group.

According to Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry, lead for drones at the National Police Chief’s Council, the police forces involved in the programme are ‘committed to embracing new technologies to deliver high-quality, cost-effective services and protection to the public.’

Barry continued: ‘Drones are one of a number of options that can deliver air support both now and in the future. They have the potential to change the way we police by working with other technologies and updating traditional methods of foot and aerial patrols.

‘Deploying drones is a decision for individual chief constables who ensure that they are used appropriately in the interest of public safety and efficient allocation of police resources.’

Over 20 police forces around the UK are thought to be experimenting with drone technologies.

Earlier this year, Labour MP Nick Smith suggested that police forces should be deploying drones to chase illegal off-road drivers. He referred to damage in his home constituency of Tredagar and across the Welsh valleys caused by bikers tearing up ground – out of reach for traditional police vehicles.