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Charlottetown Police Services is getting a state-of-the-art drone that is equipped with thermal-imaging technology.
City council voted unanimously recently to spend $89,766 on a SkyRanger R70 from FLIR Systems The price tag includes training officers on using the device as well as shipping and taxes.
“This is, I think, a very strategic purchase for us in that it is going to allow us to continue on our path to levering technology to better protect our communities, our front-line officers and support our partners in the city,’’ said Deputy Police Chief Brad MacConnell.
Coun. Bob Doiron, chairman of the protective and emergency services committee, went one step further.
“We deem it as a life-saving piece of equipment,’’ Doiron said. “Many police departments in the Maritimes and across Canada have the exact same one.’’
It’s certainly a pricey piece of equipment considering people can purchase recreational drones at hobby stores with the cost ranging from a few hundred dollars to $4,400.
However, MacConnell said there is a huge difference between what people use for hobby purposes and what the police department is getting.
For example, he said the SkyRanger R70 features an aerial visual system that can function in the most challenging of weather conditions, it can fly in sustained winds of 65 km/h and in wind gusts of 90 km/h.
“Hobbiest-level drones cannot do that,’’ the deputy chief said. “When we invest in a piece of technology like this and raise the public expectation that we have this type of equipment and are able to use it in challenging times, we need to be able to meet that expectation.’’
Doiron admitted the cost was a concern but he said council feels the benefits outweigh the price tag.
“This is a high-end drone and, in most situations, you’ll find it’s not always a bright sunny day when you need something like this,’’ the councillor said. “It could be (used) in a storm, a fire, a disaster; it’s going to be ready to go. There are no limitations. When you look at a person’s life, this could really be a life-saving measure, so you have to balance that with the cost.’’
MacConnell said it would be useful in a missing person’s case, “whether it’s someone with mental health issues that has walked away from the hospital ... especially at nighttime where it is very challenging to locate those people when they're at risk to themselves.’’
The drone can also carry up to 4.4 pounds, so police could use it, for example, to get a life jacket to someone in the water.
Doiron added it would also prove invaluable in a situation involving an armed suspect, giving police an extra set of eyes from a safe distance.
Need to know
Following are some facts around the usage of drones:
- Transport Canada says drone pilots with a basic drone pilot certificate do not need to seek permission before each flight but must fly in an uncontrolled airspace 30 metres away from bystanders at all times.
- Transport Canada also points out drone pilots can fly within a controlled airspace around an airport if they have an advanced drone pilot certificate, a drone that meets the relevant safety assurance requirements to conduct advanced operations and permission from air traffic control (Nav Canada).
- The City of Charlottetown purchased a SkyRanger R70, the same model used by the municipal police force in Fredericton, N.B.
- The SkyRanger is also used by the following municipal police forces in Ontario: Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Peel, York Regional, Toronto and Halton.
The department will also be doing a privacy impact assessment for the province’s privacy commissioner.
“We will keep her updated on new technologies that we’re implementing as we move into this ... and we will do it responsibly.’’
MacConnell said with the ongoing pandemic situation, it’s hard to say when the department will take possession of its drone. Officers with the tactical response team will first receive the necessary training.
Transport Canada put new regulations into effect on the use of drones last June.
Alexandre Desjardins, senior communications adviser with Transport Canada, said it works closely with first responders who are using drones in search and rescue, firefighting and other scenarios where getting quick view from the sky allows for a more informed response.