The Delta Police Department has launched a new drone program as part of its overall public safety mandate.
The program, which took flight in August, costs approximately $120,000 and is funded in part by the Delta Fire Department.
“We will be using the drones in a variety of circumstances, such as helping to locate high-risk missing people, to document crime scenes and major collisions, provide structure and wildfire assistance to [the] Delta Fire Department, and for disaster response,” Supt. Harj Sidhu, head of operations for the Delta Police Department, said in a press release.
The drones can fly day or night, in a wide variety of weather, and the pilots are police officers who have completed ground school training and hold a Transport Canada Advanced Remotely Piloted Aircraft System licence.
The drones provide police with situational awareness of events that they cannot gain from the ground level, helping guide police response and ensure proper resource management, the release states.
For example, Delta police recently used a drone to assess crowd size and direction in order help ensure pedestrian safety during gatherings on the Surrey/Delta border after Canucks playoff games. In August, a drone was also used to help search for a missing senior with dementia.
“Given Delta’s complex geography including extensive coastline, large parks and Burns Bog, having the capabilities to do aerial searches in a variety of weather was important to us from a public safety perspective,” Sidhu said.
All drone missions must be planned and approved under strict policy and are approved by a DPD police manager, and NavCanada guidelines are closely followed.
“We understand there could be concerns from the public in regard to expectation of privacy now that this program is in effect,” Sidhu acknowledged. “I’d like to reassure the public that this expectation of privacy is considered in all circumstances, particularly in regard to the retention of any videos or images. Furthermore, our pilots will ensure that express and informed permission or judicial authorization is granted, unless there are exigent circumstances.”
Sidhu noted the expectation of privacy is a key element of the drone operating procedures established by the department; for example, if the drone is launched in a residential area due to a critical incident and films someone in their backyard, that person’s image would be blurred should the photo or video be required in court.
Further, the drones are not covert and have navigation lights, so the public can reasonably expect to see them in a variety of circumstances.