High-flying crime fighting: London police increasing reliance on drones – London Free Press (Blogs)

Flying through unsafe buildings or hovering over crime scenes, drones – flying mini-robots, some lighter than a football – are a growing part of the London police crime-fighting arsenal.
Flying through unsafe buildings or hovering over crime scenes, drones – flying mini-robots, some lighter than a football – are a growing part of the London police crime-fighting arsenal.
Eight new drones joined the force’s fleet, complete with infrared cameras, speakers, spotlights, and longer flight times. It’s the first addition since the initial drones were purchased in 2016 and 2017. Police use of drones – officially called “remotely piloted aircraft systems” – is on the rise in London, with more than double the activity so far in 2021 compared to the same period the year before.
“Slowly, over the last five years, we’ve expanded the use, because people could see the value in it,” said Det. Terri Jackson with the forensic identification unit.
That’s the team that oversees the drones, with five out of six pilots trained to use them in the unit. One other pilot is part of the traffic unit.
Last year, drones were used about 17 times by this point in the year. In 2021, they’ve been flown in at least 42 investigations.
At first, the drones were used mainly to search for missing people, at serious car crashes, or for people in distress who’d barricaded themselves inside. But they’ve since become more common as an evidence-gathering tool, including to capture scene overviews in major investigations.
The footage allows officers to identify burn patterns at major fires or arson scenes or to show a more complete picture of a crime when evidence is spread out over several city blocks, for example.
“A lot of the photography we do is for evidence collection or to allow a trier of fact to be able to see a scene we were able to see in person,” Jackson said.
This year, London police added eight new drones, after a five-year contract with the company that sold the first two expired.
Switching to a new manufacturer and different types of drones saved some money, Jackson said, allowing the force to buy four times the number for less than the $300,000 spent in the first five years.
There are now two large drones, about seven kilograms each, with a wingspan of about 0.7 metres, to replace the aging machines from 2016 and 2017. They have a longer flight time and can stay up above major crime scenes with batteries or using a tether system. All kinds of attachments, including the infrared and zoom cameras, can be used. Two similar, but smaller drones, also were purchased. That equipment is typically used to monitor crowds or to provide aerial support in cases of barricaded people, Jackson said.
“We stay back as far as we can, so we’re not contributing to any increased stress. Our purpose is not to incite any additional emotion.”
Investigators now flying drone over scene where #Ldnont police officer shot knife-wielding man just one block from City Hall pic.twitter.com/QV6oq4iVCt
A pair of even smaller drones – less than 250 grams – can be used inside buildings that are unsafe for humans. The final two drones often are used for collisions. In concert with a software program, the drone footage quickly creates 3D and scaled diagrams over crash or crime scenes, Jackson said.
Police have to adhere to licensing and airspace requirements, like all other drone users, including procedures through Transport Canada and alerting NavCanada before and after flying. Some of the rules are different than those for civilian drone-users – such as giving emergency services protected access to the areas above crime scenes.
Police drones don’t fly higher than 120 metres, Jackson said.
The drone pilots on staff – all have advanced licences – already have had several days of training on the new drones, Jackson said. The eight new pieces are more of a “fleet approach,” with two of each variety in case one is out of commission.
“We opened our doors to be able to fly in more situations,” she said.
Another improvement in the new drones? They’re heartier in the cold.
“It’s Canada. We have to be able to fly in negative temperatures.”
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