On the left of the image, white text on  a black background reads 'News Round Up How are Police Using Thermal Cameras to Solve Crime'. To the right of this text, two policemen in high-vis are flying a drone with two cameras attached.

In previous News Roundups, we’ve explored how thermal imaging has been used to prevent Covid outbreaks as well as reduce carbon emissions and energy bills. Another area where thermal technology has been making a significant difference is in law enforcement. Officers in the UK and USA have been using thermal cameras to uncover drugs farms, corner criminals, and rescue distressed or missing persons.

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US Officer Outlines Advantages of Thermal Imaging

Writing for Police1, an industry news platform owned by Lexipol, Jerrod Fraley, an active-duty patrol officer in Ohio, USA, explains how thermal imaging could prove beneficial in the field.[1]

Using examples in which he did not have access to infrared-imaging technology, Fraley explains how thermal cameras would have improved the safety and efficiency of these missions. He offers four examples; the first of which details how thermal imaging might have offered a significant advantage during a SWAT operation with the objective of finding and apprehending a robbery suspect. As the SWAT team approached the building in which they believed the robber to be taking cover, they initiated tactics such as making announcements, deploying gas, and approaching in armoured vehicles. In the commotion, the team could not see that the suspect was actually hiding in the field next to the building and that he was unable to pass through the police perimeter. Fraley explains that helmet-mounted thermal imaging monoculars would have enabled the SWAT team to survey the immediate area around the building as they approached. As a result, they would have found and arrested the suspect far more quickly.

Similarly, in another incident with the SWAT unit, Fraley explains how thermal technology would, once again, have enabled the team to find a man, who had shot one of Fraley’s colleagues, more quickly. Following the shooter into a building, the SWAT team conducted a time-consuming and methodical search of the structure before eventually discovering the suspect hiding under insulation in an attic crawl space. Thermal cameras, which can detect and visualise body heat, would have made the search much more efficient.

Fraley goes on to explain that having cameras sensitive to body temperature is beneficial both when tracking a suspect and searching for missing persons. He recalls an incident involving an auto thief who evaded capture by fleeing on foot from one stolen (and subsequently abandoned) vehicle to another. He argues that thermal cameras equipped with short- and long-distance detection could have aided with the apprehension of this robber. As they can detect the thermal residue of recent footprints (for up to 30-60 seconds), thermal imaging cameras would have provided a method by which law enforcement might have tracked the suspect.

Tracking footprints and detecting body heat also offers a critical advantage when attempting to locate missing or lost persons. Fraley points out that access to thermal imaging cameras would have been particularly helpful on the many occasions he has been called out to locate elderly individuals with dementia. Sadly, many afflicted persons leave their homes in the middle of the night, become lost and confused, and wind up exhausted and distressed in woodlands, wetlands, or low-lying ponds. Thermal cameras improve the speed and ease with which individuals can be located, significantly reducing the potential for harm.

Read Jerrod Fraley’s Full Article Here

Thermal Technology Helps UK Police Forces Thwart Criminals & Rescue Victims

In recent years British news outlets have reported on the real-world advantages and applications of thermal technology within police forces, many of which were highlighted by Fraley in his article (see above).  

In October 2018, The Independent published an article detailing how a teenage rape victim was found using a drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera. Trapped with her alleged attacker in an unknown location, the 16-year-old girl phoned the police and described being in “a large, disused industrial complex surrounded by an 8ft high fence.” This was enough information for Lincolnshire Police Force to find her within minutes using their thermal-imaging drone. [2]  

The article explains that Lincolnshire Police have also used thermal drones to locate a vulnerable dementia sufferer in the dark and save a motorist who was suffering from hyperthermia after crashing his car on a cold night in February.

Detractors argue that police use of drones brings us dangerously close to creating a surveillance state. However, supporters point out the many positive impacts of using drones, from monitoring officer safety to watching potential escape routes during raids of organised crime groups.

The Independent reports that in June 2017 a specialist drone unit, comprised of six unmanned aircraft equipped with HD and thermal cameras, was launched by the Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall police forces. It goes on to say that data acquired by the i newspaper indicates that, as of June 2018,

“31 out of Britain’s 45 police forces owned or had access to drone technology, and dozens of officers were undergoing Civil Aviation Authority training to control the unmanned aircraft.”[3]

Click Here to Read The Independent’s Article

As thermal technology becomes more prevalent within our police forces so too have articles detailing the ways it has been used to catch criminals and save stranded individuals.

Police Shutdown Lockdown Party

On the 19th of August 2020, the Evening Standard reported that Greater Manchester Police had released thermal footage that showed approximately two-hundred people attending an illegal, lockdown house party at a residence in Gorton. The thermal footage, captured aerially from a helicopter, served as evidence that was used to impose a three-month closure order on the premises and a £100 fixed penalty notice on the twenty-seven-year-old, female resident.[4]

Read the Entire Article on the Evening Standard’s Website

Pensioner Rescued Using IR Imaging

It was reported in The Independent on Monday 29th November 2021 that Lynton Bradley, a 76-year-old man walking in Coleshill in Warwickshire, was found and rescued by police using a thermal camera. The pensioner had strayed off the path he was walking on and wound up stuck in a ditch, unable to free himself from the sharp brambles holding his foot. Police found Mr Bradley by tracing his phone signal to a wooded area near the M6; a helicopter was then able to detect Mr Bradley and guide police officers, PCs Lee Parker and Adam Kendall, towards him using thermal cameras.[5]

West Midlands Police has published footage of the rescue on their YouTube channel. You can watch it below.

To Read the Full Article Please Visit The Independent’s Website

Thermal Technology Saves Women From Swamp

In March 2022, The Independent published footage of West Midlands Police once again using thermal cameras to aid with a rescue effort. Thermal drone footage shows the moment an officer rescues two twenty-three-year-old women who had become trapped in a marshy area of Birmingham’s Sutton Park and were unable to find their way out in the dark. West Midlands Police used thermal imaging to both locate the ladies and guide the officer towards them.[6]

View the Footage on The Independent’s Website

Criminal Cornered by Coppers with Thermal Cameras

On the 26th March 2022 at 2:40 am a twenty-year-old man was arrested in Wednesbury on suspicion of stealing a motor vehicle, possessing a weapon, and possessing Class B drugs with intent to supply. The suspect tried to evade capture by fleeing from a stolen car across people’s gardens and a disused railway track before attempting to hide on a homeowner’s roof. He was tracked and captured by police using a drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera.[7]

MSN News and Birmingham Live Offer the Complete Article.

Cannabis Farm Found Using Thermal Footage

Albert Frani, a twenty-seven-year-old Brighton man, has been sentenced to twenty-six weeks in prison after thermal footage revealed an unusual amount of heat coming from his home. The heat was emanating from a cannabis farm occupying four rooms of his property. £36 000 of cannabis, a Class B drug, was discovered at Frani’s home.[8]

BBC News has the Full Story.

Further Information

PASS Ltd offers an extensive array of thermal cameras by leading manufacturers, such as FLIR, Guide, Hikmicro, Pulsar, and Seek Thermal, specifically designed for law enforcement and emergency services operations. For more help and advice regarding these cameras or to discuss our thermal-imaging drone options, please contact our Sales team on 01642 931 329 or via our online form.

Browse All Law Enforcement Thermal Cameras

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[1] Jerrod Fraley, ‘Several times when I needed a thermal imaging monocular’, Police1 By Lexipol, last accessed 08 April 2022

[2] Adam Lusher, ‘Teenage rape victim found by police drone with thermal imaging camera’, The Independent, last accessed 08 April 2022  

[3] Lusher, ‘Teenage rape victim found by police drone with thermal imaging camera’; and Cahal Milmo, ‘Most British police forces now have drones – and they’re getting better at watching us. Is this the future we want?’, i newspaper, last accessed 08 April 2022  

[4] Ellena Cruse, ‘Police thermal imaging camera shows 200 people at an illegal house party in Manchester’, Evening Standard, last accessed 08 April 2022

[5] Aisha Rimi, ‘Moment police use thermal imaging to find missing pensioner who got trapped in brambles’, The Independent, last accessed 08 April 2022

[6] Oliver Browning, ‘Birmingham: Woman hugs police officer after being saved from swamp by thermal imaging drone’, The Independent, last accessed 08 April 2022

[7] Jamie Brassington, ‘Police drone team track suspect hiding on veranda roof in Wednesbury’, Birmingham Live, last accessed 08 April 2022; and Jamie Brassington, ‘Suspect who hid on Wednesbury homeowner’s roof arrested over possession of weapon and Class B drugs’, MSN News, last accessed 08 April 2022

[8] BBC News, ‘Brighton man jailed for turning home into cannabis factory’, BBC News, last accessed 08 April 2022