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Vancouver police adding drones to crime prevention arsenal

Remote-controlled cameras won’t be looking in peoples’ windows: superintendent

When the Vancouver Police Department begins flying camera-carrying drones soon, it will be taking privacy laws seriously as it develops policy around remote-controlled aircrafts’ use, the VPD says.

“We are very close to being able to go public with our drone program,” said Superintendent Michele Davey of the Vancouver Police Department’s investigation division.

“We have no desire, no interest in looking in your windows,” Davey stressed at the Policing Info World conference at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Richmond May 23. “We have a desire to be completely transparent with our drones.”

She said dropping drone costs and readily accessible technology have allowed the force to consider integrating drones into city policing.

Davey stressed drones would not be used to watch people. She said they would be used to assist in disaster response or to gather information for critical incidents such as hostage takings or suicidal people.

As well, Davey said, drones could be helpful in tracking people in out-of-control people in situations such as the 2011 hockey riot where a small group were running through the downtown core.

Aerial cameras would also be useful for taking photos of crash scenes to gain a better understanding of a collision event and to see full car debris trails.

Davey said surveillance with tools such as closed circuit TV are not used by the VPD “as a rule.”

She said CCTV was used during the 2010 Winter Olympics. “Once the Olympics were finished, the cameras were decommissioned, they were removed.”

Davey said 90% of Vancouver’s downtown core is covered by private surveillance. And, she said, if a crime is being investigated, police would seek out that footage.

“Ninety percent of the images we do collect are not of any use to us,” she said.

B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director Josh Paterson said the civil society group has no objections to police using the drones for the stated purposes.

But, he cautioned, the drones must be used lawfully to avoid breached Charter of Rights and Freedoms protections.

He said it’s important that regulations against “indiscriminate mass surveillance” are strict. He also suggested image-retention restriction periods, public notices ahead of drone use as well as auditing of drone usages.