Northland police have gone to new heights when it comes to making arrests, with a drone being used for the first time on the front line in Northland.

A trained officer sent the drone skyward following an incident involving a driver who allegedly failed to stop, dumped a stolen car and then ran across farm paddocks on November 8 about 10.30am.

The drone was used to track the man's movements across the paddocks filled with stock and officers were directed towards him and made the arrest just off State Highway 1, near Towai.

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Drones have proven to be a valuable resource for police internationally and are frequently used to photograph and map crime scenes and provide aerial views of high-risk situations.

Scenarios that Northland police are most likely to use drones for include search and rescue operations, mapping crime scenes or gathering evidence at serious car crashes.

The technology would enable police to respond quickly, assess situations and potentially save lives.

Inspector Alan Symonds confirmed after three months of rigorous training and testing police had launched the drone for the first time with success.

There are currently seven staff trained to use the new drones that will be deployed across the district. They had met the operation requirements set out by the CAA.

Symonds said a drone would only deployed if police had a search warrant or were able to under the Search and Surveillance Act.

"We are conscious of the legislation and are bound by that legislation," Symonds said.

"There are processes around non-emergency use and we are strict on that."


Using a drone would mean better staff safety - for example they could be used at a firearms incident to gain an overview of the scene rather than sending in an officer.

Head of the Northland Police Search and Rescue Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe said a drone would be invaluable and potentially save lives.

Being able to get a clear picture of terrain quickly would allow better deployment of search teams at callouts.

Searching coastlines for people trapped on rocks would not only be quicker using a drone but also safer as staff would not be put at risk.

Metcalfe said a perfect example of when a drone could have been used was in September when an Australian tourist spent seven hours trapped about 80m up a cliff near Russell before he could be hauled to safety by the specialist rescue team.

A New South Wales couple was attempting to walk around the coast from Long Beach to Tapeka Pt, in the Bay of Islands, when they were caught by the incoming tide, they tried to scramble up a cliff at Pukematu Pt but it was more rugged then they anticipated.


The man "got himself into a really bad position'' about 80m up the cliff and 90m from the top.

Metcalfe said it was very difficult to locate the man and a drone would have pin-pointed his location.

The drones were also equipped with a light which made it possible for them to be used at night.

While the police are new to drone use, Fire and Emergency in Northland have been using the technology for at least a year.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand does not have a drone based in Northland, but source them from local contractors or through Urban Search and Rescue in Auckland.

Area manager Whangarei Kaipara Brad Mosby said drones had been used in the region to map rural fires and for infra-red work which involves detecting hot spots.


A drone was used last year at a large rural fire at Horeke and more recently at the Abby Caves Rd fire.

"This gives us a bird's eye view of the situation without putting people in danger. Drones are useful for incident management purposes, the visuals are used to gather important information that inform our tactical decision making," Mosby said.

Nationally the service has employed drones for the last few years, including at big incidents like last month's SkyCity New Zealand International Convention Centre fire and the Pigeon Valley Fire in the Tasman District.