Police forces across the country are increasingly turning to technology in the fight against crime, and the use of high-performance drones is giving rural officers in the Thames Valley an edge over hare coursers.
Covering large areas of farmland across Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire is a huge challenge for Thames Valley Police (TVP) and its rural crime taskforce.
With the hare coursing season under way, the rural crime team is using two drones to target people who trespass across bare fields to hunt hares with dogs, often causing significant damage to the soil, hedges and gateways.
Police Sgt Rob Maris, from TVP’s rural crime taskforce, said the drones can help gather valuable evidence.
“The challenge with hare coursing is proving the offence and proving they weren’t just out there walking the dog. If we have good video evidence of the crime in action, it will help us in court,” he said.
As the nights draw in, rural officers have been practising using the drones on farms and in fields to search for suspects or missing people in the dark.
Five officers in the taskforce are trained to use the drones and Sgt Maris believes this is helping to reduce hare-coursing incidents across the Thames Valley.
“It is not about trying to catch people out. Other departments use the drones very covertly, but we use them as a visible deterrent, so we are quite different in terms of how drones have been used before,” he said.
The drones are also able to quickly search large and otherwise inaccessible areas. The team recently recovered a £200,000 screener plant machine that had been stolen and hidden in a quarry.
Oxfordshire farmer David Orpwood praised the high-tech approach taken by TVP and said it is driving hare coursers and other rural criminals out of the force’s patch.
“If you’ve got someone hare coursing, officers can turn up and instead of going out and confronting them, they can put the drone up and get the proof of what is going on. They are an incredibly motivated force,” he said.
Police force invests £22,000 in drone technology
Thames Valley Police’s rural crime taskforce has two drones designed specifically for tackling crime in the countryside.
The DJI Matrice 300 with its attachments cost £15,000. The drone’s thermal imaging camera can read a numberplate from 600m away.
A high-powered spotlight gives hare coursers nowhere to hide if they are out in fields at night. The light is also useful for search missions, including people or reports of stolen machinery. At its maximum take-off weight of 9kg, the drone’s maximum flight time is 30 minutes.
The DJI Mavic cost £7,000 and is also fitted with a thermal imaging camera. The drone can also be fitted with a speaker, allowing officers to talk to anyone on the ground.