Vancouver Police Department seeks approval to use drones in various operations

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      By the end of this year, Vancouver police may be using drones for operations involving mass casualties, disaster response, missing persons, or search warrants.

      The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) announced today (September 17) that they have released a new internal policy for how police use drones within the city.

      If the Vancouver Police Board approves the policy at a meeting today, three operational drones (one large FLIR SkyRanger unit and two smaller Mavic 2 Enterprise units) will be used before the end of 2019 for operations such as:

      • investigating vehicle collisions, which can be used with software to create three-dimensional diagrams;
      • crime-scene analysis and reconstruction, such as photographing delicate evidence like footprints or tire tracks before anyone sets foot at the scene;
      • search and rescue, which can be used in areas with limited visibility or for with infrared systems;
      • disaster analysis, to map the scope of incidents;
      • critical incidents or tactical awareness, by providing real-time video and images of hazards, suspects, locations, and entrances or exits.

      The three units cost $112,226.81.

      Three additional Spark drones, for a cost of $2,000, will be used for training purposes.

      The total cost of the drones, plus telecommunications equipment, training and certification, and insurance, is $41,068.29 (which factors in a grant of $100,000 from the Vancouver Police Foundation).

      The VPD states that the drones won’t be used for surveillance.

      According to the VPD, the policy was developed over several months with key stakeholder groups, including the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

      VPD operations superintendent Steve Eely states that the VPD is “committed to full transparency with our policy for the use of the equipment and want Vancouver residents to fully understand when and how the equipment will be used”.

      In an appendix of the policy report, a letter to the VPD from policy analyst Julie Downs of the OIPC states that the “amount and sensitivity of personal information VPD collects will be relatively high, therefore the level of security must also be high”. She explains that according to the VPD Information and Privacy Unit, the collected data will be encrypted and handled according to the VPD’s security policy.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook