Police in the UK have concluded a series of trials using drones in the course of “high risk” police work, resulting in Sussex and Surrey police receiving a £250,000 grant from the Police Innovation Fund which they will use to buy five SkyRanger drones from Waterloo, Ontario’s Aeryon Labs.
The Times newspaper is reporting that the drones may “be used during protests and in searches for missing persons after senior police concluded that they were an efficient alternative to helicopters, police dogs and, in some cases, officers themselves.”
One of the trials reportedly took place at Gatwick Airport in South London, monitoring the airport’s perimeter for suspicious activity.
“They can be efficient and effective,” the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on drones Steve Barry told The Times. “If someone breaks into your shed and then makes off, and there are dozens of back sheds he might be hiding in… drones could be the perfect solution. They would be quicker than dogs.”
Barry, who is also an assistant chief constable with the Surrey Police, attempted to address privacy concerns, telling The Times that police were “to be clear about the purpose and legitimacy of deploying the drone” and that “Low-level crime would not justify a drone being deployed over back gardens of people’s houses.”
With 25% of the U.K.’s 43 police forces considering purchasing drones for police work, the likelihood is strong that more drones will be seen buzzing around the U.K. to support police work.
“That there is so little information about drones, what they can do and what they can see causes anxiety to many people,” said privacy advocate Renate Samson, speaking for Big Brother Watch to Ars Technica, “Today’s announcement that the police will deploy these flying eyes as an alternative to helicopters and dogs when investigating crime and policing public events will only add to this anxiety.”
A spokesperson with the National Police Chief’s Council followed up with Ars Technica, saying that the NPCC was working with the Home Office to establish whether drones might be more cost-effective alternatives to traditional aerial surveillance or CCTV.
Worries about police drones are high on the public radar, however, with a South African drone maker marketing its Skunk Riot Control Copter, which fires balls full of pepper spray, to “to control unruly crowds without endangering the lives of the protestors or the security staff.”
Indian police have recently purchased five pepper-spray drones to be “used by the Lucknow police whenever there are violent protests or mob attacks.”
And meanwhile in North Dakota, a state law was passed in 2015 to allow the use of “less than lethal” weaponized drones, which will be allowed to deploy tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbags, pepper spray and Tasers.
Aeryon Labs SkyRangers have already been used to raid a Central American narco-traffickers compound, and to bust illegal grow-ops in Ontario.
The Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service recently became the U.K.’s first emergency response force to use drones for firefighting purposes.
In October, Aeryon Labs raised a $60 million investment, led by Boston’s Summit Partners.
— Manchester Fire (@manchesterfire) December 7, 2015