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Watch: A look inside illegal drone deliveries at B.C.'s prisons

A new pilot project using drone-detecting technology aims to intercept the "crazy" number of drop-offs happening inside B.C.'s prisons.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers says the number of drones dropping off weapons and drugs into B.C.'s prisons is "daily" with packages coming in different disguises, shapes and sizes.

John Randle, regional president in the Pacific Region, receives a call as soon as there is a sighting or drop.

“We’ve seen and caught up to 30 drones in one week,” he says, adding it's only 50 per cent of what he believes is occurring.

Randle estimates there are five to 30 drone sightings, collectively at the institutions, per week, in B.C.

“It’s a huge concern for officers. It’s important for us to know what’s coming in,” he says. 

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) spokesperson Lucinda Fraser says “although there may be drone sightings, the total number of drone drops reported varies.”

During an interview with Glacier Media for this story on May 3, Randle confirmed a drone drop had occurred at a Lower Mainland institution. 

What is in the packages? 

Since the advancement of drone technology, Randle believes the volume of drugs coming into prisons is "way different."

“The volume now is crazy. We're seeing packages coming in that we would see crossing a border normally that you'd see on like border shows, and now they're dropping that kind of package into a prison,” he says. 

When the drugs enter the institutions, Randle explains how overdoses occur, along with lockdowns and searches.

“That costs a lot of money... it's not cheap to do searches,” he says. 

An individual who works within CSC tells Glacier Media drones have been observed by staff at Matsqui Institution and that CSC is "always vigilant and on the lookout" for any drones or other attempts to introduce contraband to the site.

Violence is also increasing, says Randle, who credits it to the drone drops. He’s seen pocket knives, brass knuckles and ceramic knives inside the institutions. 

“It's all tied to what's going on in the street, and all the crime and all the violence right now,” he says. “It's creating a huge black market inside the institution, which then creates violence on the outside trying to control that market."

Recently, an unsuspecting football was dropped from a drone into the middle of a sports field at one institution and it contained contraband. 

“It’s not uncommon for us to see a football,” he explains.

Cellphones are also being dropped and then used to pinpoint an inmate’s exact location in the prison.

“The drone can actually fly right to that cellphone and then an inmate reaches out and grabs the package,” Randle says, adding there are more cellphones in prisons now than ever before. 

“[It] gives them sort of access to the outside world to continue conducting their criminal activities, which is a scary part.”

Pilot project to detect drones

Correctional officers working at the institutions are the ones typically watching and intercepting drones. 

“What we're using right now is staff," says Randle. "It's staff really paying diligent attention there in the towers."

Randle explains how a new pilot project was just launched by CSC in May at a select number of institutions.

“We’ve seen some go live actually this week and we’ve seen some successes,” he says. 

Correctional Service Canada confirmed the new technology. 

"We continue to respond to the threat posed by drones with a layered approach which includes the use of security practices, adoption of new technologies, intelligence activities and infrastructure enhancements,” says Fraser. 

This includes the procurement and piloting of drone-detection technology, piloting of cellphone detection technologies, piloting of body scanners, training of dogs to detect electronic devices, investment in intelligence activities and infrastructure enhancements to facilities, she says. 

"Preventing and reducing the number of contraband items and illicit drugs in Correctional Service Canada's institutions remains an ongoing priority,” says Fraser. 

Randle notes drone-detection technology uses radar, sound or frequency to spot the devices. 

“There are certain technologies where it just detects it and there are certain technologies where it actually allows you to take control of the drone,” he says. In Canada, the take-over drone technology is not legal. 

“We have a detection system that uses a multiple of options of sound and radar,” he says, adding the facilities using the drone-detection technology are not being revealed for privacy reasons. “It’s a really good system.”

Using nets around the facilities was discussed, but posed environmental concerns, human rights issues and wildlife risks. 

“We're pretty confident with this current system that they're installing,” he says, noting the goal is to get the technology set up in all of the facilities quickly.

“Everything looks good right now.” 

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