Since 2016, the Toronto Police drone program used unmanned aircraft successfully to document accident scenes, monitor protests, find missing people, and more. The police department now has 24 licensed pilots and uses 16 police drones.
Toronto police drone program is the future officers say
In one example of how drones can be used for good, the Toronto police used an unmanned aircraft to locate a 98-year-old man who went missing in Rexdale. In September 2020, Leonard Simpson had been missing for several days.
“We used drones to search an area of 47 kilometers and managed to find the elderly man on the side of a ravine after several nights on his own in the elements,” Toronto Police Const. Douglas Elo told the Toronto Sun. “That was one of our first major successes for the RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) program,” he added.
The Toronto police drone program started in 2016 with the purchase of a few drones, Elo a training officer in the Emergency Management and Public Order Unit’s Search Management section explained.
Initially, the police department took small steps to allow the public to become familiar with police officers flying drones, said Const. Mike Ramsay, a fellow RPAS program training officer
“We get lots of positive feedback from the public,” the 22-year veteran said. “People understand the importance of such a tool in policing.”
In the beginning, the police drones were mostly used by Traffic Services to map and reconstruct accidents scenes, allowing major roads to be reopened faster. The unmanned aircraft were also used to help find missing people.
Elo explained that drones have “quickly become one of the largest game changers in Search and Rescue worldwide.” The unmanned aircraft can search vast areas much faster while keeping First Responders safe from having to search through dangerous on foot.
The drones have also proved to be valuable in the search for missing swimmers and boaters.
Elo explained that “we are actually able to see right to the bottom of the water.”
Since the start of the drone program in Toronto, the aircraft have also been used to find firearms that had been disposed of, to let stranded people know that help is on the way, to document homicide scenes, to light up the scenes of major accidents and to help Firefighters locate hot spots from the air.
At times drones have even been used to help get ambulances to the scene of an accident faster by providing traffic information from the air.
“When there is a large gathering in the city — a protest or a parade — we can monitor traffic on surrounding streets and divert ambulances around the crowd,” he said. “So someone’s mom or dad is alive because a drone provided a clear path for the ambulance to get the hospital faster.”
The Toronto police drone program has been able to provide eyes in the sky in situations when deploying a helicopter was impractical or unsafe.
“We can’t bring a helicopter to a downtown accident scene (because of all the condos and office towers), but we can take a drone out of a box,” Elo said.
The Toronto police department now has 24 trained and certified pilots and operates 16 drones, some of which costs as much as $30,000. However, less expensive models costing a mere $500 are also in use.
As Drone Technology keeps evolving and improving the police officers are constantly looking for new ways to put unmanned aircraft to use.
“The applications for this tool just keep growing as the technology evolves,” Elo said. “It’s actually evolving in our hands from call to call.”
“We regularly sit back, look at calls, and consider whether a drone could be used to assist with the police response,” Ramsay chimed in.
Both police officers are very excited about the use of drones and say it will be only a matter of time before the Toronto police department will set up a dedicated drone unit.
“This is the future, we’re living in the future — and where it goes from here, we don’t know yet,” Elo said.
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Photo credits: Toronto Sun and Toronto Police Department.