Drones have been used about 100 times in in Cumbria in the last year, with officers launching them to search large swathes of the countryside and monitor crime scenes.

Officers say the unmanned aerial vehicles - which are steered by remote control - are becoming an increasingly useful tool to fight crime and protect people.

The aircraft, known as UAVs, can be used for a range of purposes, with an officer on the ground piloting them from up to 500 metres away.

An increased number of officers are being trained to pilot the devices - and police chiefs say they will become an increasingly larger part of their tactics.

The drones were launched in a blaze of publicity last autumn.

Police said they believed they would be an innovative and cost-effective resource.

The county force says it has four drones - with a UAVs based at Carlisle, Workington, Kendal and its county headquarters, near Penrith.

In the past year drones have been flown to help with investigations into missing people, potential explosive alerts and fires.

Chief Inspector Matt Kennerley said: “We estimate the drones have been used around 100 times.

"Last week alone they were used on four separate occasions, including to assist in the search for a prisoner from Haverigg prison."

He added other notable recent uses included assisting with gathering information at the scene of a death inquiry.

“The drone scheme remains in its infancy," he added.

"Until this summer we only had two officers trained in using the drones.

"However, we now have 14 officers trained and, as such, the use of the drones is and will continue to increase."

The drones produce top quality high definition footage.

They can collect evidence and monitor events from a distance, to help detect crime.

They can also be deployed into situations where sending out patrols would put the public or officers at risk.

The original cost of the drones were put at £2,300 each.

Chief Insp Kennerley added: “Cumbria is a large rural county and we are finding that the drones are proving extremely useful in all manner of policing scenarios, particularly assisting in resource-intensive incidents such as searching large rural areas.

"As such, we are certainly finding the drones are proving value for money, particularly given the relatively low cost.”

Cumbria's police officers have increasingly been using new technology in recent years.

Patrols can now wear head cameras to gather evidence while the force operates a cutting-edge CCTV system.