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Drones coming to Barrhead RCMP this year

Will be used as ‘first responder’ for police, says interim CO
Barrhead RCMP Cpl. Filipe Vicente briefs Town of Barrhead Council on Feb. 13.

BARRHEAD - Drones will be supporting police in the skies in Barrhead before long, according to the local RCMP’s detachment commander.

Cpl. Filipe Vicente updated Town of Barrhead Council on the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), more commonly known as drones, as part of his quarterly Community Policing Report at the Feb. 13 meeting.

Vicente mentioned the drones in a similar presentation to Barrhead County councillors Feb. 6, but since that presentation he received new information indicating the RCMP may be moving to implement them more quickly and widely than anticipated after successful testing work in Red Deer County. Police now expect to have drones available for use in every detachment in Alberta this year.

Vicente wasn’t sure exactly when they would be out in the field, as operators require extensive training, but said he expects to see them arrive in the spring and hopes to have one operator available for each shift.

Drones have been used increasingly by many police forces across the United States in recent years to help track suspects fleeing into wooded areas or to help co-ordinate officers in situations like evacuations.

When asked by Mayor Dave McKenzie if drones would be used as part of patrols, Vicente replied: “The whole idea is drone as first responder.”

He cited a U.S. example where a drone was used to check on a gun complaint before deploying officers and were able to determine that the suspected firearm was an airsoft rifle.

“That risk assessment went way down,” said Vicente.

The RCMP are still deciding which type of drone to use, with an Edmonton-area company, Pegasus Imagery, one of the ones under consideration, Vicente said. Pegasus drones were used in support of wildfire crews during last summer's wildfires in Alberta.

With a maximum flying speed of 120 km/h, drones can be used to track speeding vehicles or to help officers on the ground co-ordinate searches for suspects, he added.

“It’s going to be really tough being a bad guy with these.”

Coun. Ty Assaf asked about privacy concerns related to police drones and how RCMP would address them. Vicente said regulations are being developed to ensure that cameras on drones must face the horizon while in transit and can’t focus on an area until they are on the scene. He added all flights will be fully recorded with records stored to confirm they have not been used for improper surveillance.

Tim Shoults

About the Author: Tim Shoults

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