England: Rural Police Drone Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

Source: Essex Police

Source: Essex Police

Residents of an English county are split over a new police initiative to deploy drones to scour rural areas for would-be near-do-wells.

This past week, the Essex Police commenced Operation Buzzard, a campaign officials say will reduce crime in farming areas. Farmers regularly report problems with machinery theft, illegal trash dumping and “hare coursing” – the illegal practice of setting dogs in pursuit of hares that many have called a barbaric blood sport.

“Operation Buzzard gives us the opportunity to develop our response to rural crime with the assistance of new technologies such as the force drone which can help us gather evidence to crack down on offenders,” Rural Patrol Officer Andy Long stated in an Essex press release.

Some local farmers welcome the surveillance, seeing the aerial patrol as a nimbler response force than officers on the ground.

“It is pretty outrageous what is going on at the moment and there is a lot of rural crime which I don’t think is being taken serious enough,” farmer Peter Fairs told the Essex County Standard. “I would prefer anything which is going to reduce crime in the countryside or stop some of it completely.”

The Essex Police Force has been proactive in drone use since July when the department not only started a special drone division, but also established a police-drone Twitter profile. Currently, the feed is following Operation Buzzard with the hashtag #opbuzzard.

“Drone technology has allowed us to search difficult-to-reach areas, such as roof tops, fields and compounds,” police-drone officer Sergeant Aaron Connolly said in a press release.

But many local residents see the rural drone patrol as either unnecessary or invasive.

“It seems like Big Brother gone mad,” Burnham resident Vanessa Bell told the Clacton Gazette. “There are potentially huge invasion of privacy issues, and I can imagine some people might think it highly entertaining to shoot them out of the sky.”

Burnham Mayor Ron Pratt wonders if the drone force will be used as an excuse to reduce manned patrols. “Residents want to see more of a physical police presence,” he said in an interview. “Only time will tell whether this operation will be a good thing or a bad thing, but I still believe we as an area should have a police presence.”

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