Devon and Cornwall Police along with their partners in Dorset have become the first forces in the country to launch a dedicated drone unit.
They began trialling the technology in November 2015 and the unit has now become fully established.
Five officers have been trained, with a further 40 aiming to complete their Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) accreditation in the next 12 months.
There are currently six drones - equipped with a zoom camera and thermal imaging - in operation across the two forces.
The drones take part in missing person searches, crime scene photography and respond to major road traffic collisions.
They also help scour the forces' 600 miles of coastline, as well as woodlands, and help combat wildlife crime.
Some of the drones feature police livery but do not have flashing blue lights or sirens.
Others have been left blank for covert operations. Chief Superintendent Jim Nye, commander for the Alliance Operations Department, described the unit as an "historic step" for policing in the UK.
"Drone capability is a cutting-edge way to support operational policing across Devon, Cornwall and Dorset.
"This technology offers a highly cost-effective approach in supporting ourofficers on the ground in operational policing."
The unit is currently using DJI Inspire drones, costing approximately £2,000 with the basic camera, and DJI Mavic drones, costing £1,300.
A thermal camera costs about £6,000 and a zoom camera costs £800. Helicopters cost about £800 per hour.
The unit aims to have 40 officers complete their CAA training and become fully accredited by the start of 2018.
Further drones will then be purchased, with the unit obtaining around 12 available by that year.
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