drone certificationEye in the sky: Regina Police Service using drones for various tasks

July 29, 2021by helo-10
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Drones are being used by the city police to help with various and often-dangerous tasks, used by units like SWAT and explosives disposal.

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Not so long ago, police on an emergent call could have run into obstacles getting a look inside an apartment in a multi-storey building or a house being used for a standoff.

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As technology improves, police have added to their toolkit, giving them new and better ways of dealing with emergent matters while lowering risk to themselves, suspects and the broader public.

Among those tools is the drone.

Officially called unmanned aerial vehicles, drones were already being used by members investigating serious collisions, providing a bird’s eye view of the location of a crash and the area around it — an area that often contains a range of evidence not easily captured in a single, on-the-ground photo.

In more recent times, use of drones by police has evolved. Now they’re being used by units like SWAT and explosives disposal (EDU), providing members with a safer way to get eyes on a situation.

Regina Police Service Supt. Darcy Koch, in charge of the support services division, says significant improvements to drone technology, combined with a sizeable drop in price, meant the RPS opted to use some of its regular operating budget to purchase additional drones. The RPS now has three: one each for the traffic safety unit, SWAT and the EDU.

Koch says each is a different model given each serves a different purpose.

“The one that the SWAT officers use is very small, the size of a binder on your desk,” he says. “The one that the EDU has is a little bit bigger. It’s meant to fly, I guess, a little higher, probably has a little more ability to deal with weather where a SWAT officer, they would fly it from a very close, specific location and into a home so they’re within sight of it.”

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The Regina Police Service SWAT team’s drone being used during a training exercise.
The Regina Police Service SWAT team’s drone being used during a training exercise. Photo by Lindsey Hoemsen and Christeen Sh /jpg

The most recent purchase was made last month from Swift Current-based Chaos Choppers, and the device is now being used by the EDU. Members can put the drone up to get an accurate glimpse of an area rather than what they were doing: relying on sometimes-outdated and therefore inaccurate topographic maps available online.

“We can get an accurate picture of what the location looks like immediately and are now working with some technology that we could transmit a photograph from a scene directly back into a command centre,” Koch says. “So it’s pretty outstanding in terms of the opportunities it creates for us.”

In terms of SWAT calls, members have been using a robot for some time, but Koch says robots can get hung up on things where drones don’t.

Koch notes drones once could cost upwards of $10,000. Last month’s purchase came in at just under $5,000.

He adds it isn’t as simple as purchasing the drones. Members of the units using them need to be fully trained and must receive their advanced operations pilot certificate under Canadian Aviation regulations.

Additionally, police can’t just launch them whenever and wherever they want. Each use has to be cleared by an on-shift supervisor, and authorities like the Regina Airport Authority and the aeronautics division of the federal government must be notified.

Koch says SWAT and EDU can glean important information through the use of drones without needing to get too close to a potentially dangerous situation. He adds drones can be put to other uses, such as more easily locating a missing person by providing views not available from the ground.

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“There’s so many different opportunities for it now,” he says. “Being on a regular call for service where there’s a need to get an overhead shot of something where you can’t get too close, a drone would help us to get that and gather some intelligence …

“Advancement of technology becomes a tool for us to provide better public safety but also officer safety, that we don’t have to initially go into a dangerous situation, where we can get some intelligence. We have to go in anyway, but we have a better idea of what we’re going into prior to going in.”

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.

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