In light of ongoing concerns over potential surveillance misuse, Hamilton Police in Canada still recommend broadening their police drone operations, as per a recently unveiled report. The drone program, launched in 2020, has seen police deployment 59 times thus far.
The Hamilton police's initiative to operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) was spotlighted in the May 25 police services board meeting. This discussion follows a series of reports by CBC Hamilton, probing the privacy implications of the program, with backlash from community groups, researchers, and political figures alike.
While Deputy Chief Paul Hamilton did not address these worries directly during his brief presentation, Coun. Cameron Kroetsch vocalized his apprehension over the drone's role in citizen surveillance, particularly during public gatherings. However, he recognized their value in specific scenarios and investigations.
The drone fleet's purposes, as detailed by Hamilton, include Search and Rescue, collision reconstruction, criminal investigations, and handling critical incidents and large-scale events. One such event was a homecoming party at McMaster University last fall.
Privacy concerns about police drones
Kroetsch reportedly shared residents' unease regarding drone surveillance, stating, “Being surveilled by drones is a very different kind of activity. It's not one that I would say the average person is prepared for or understands the nature of.”
Drones have been deployed 59 times since the program's inception, 24 of which related to collision reconstruction, representing 40% of usage as of May 15. Criminal investigations made up 20% of their use, while search and rescue missions accounted for 17%, as per the report.
“All of our deployments are reviewed by the inspector of community safety to ensure they are compliant,” affirmed Hamilton, adding that drone deployment requires command level approval and strict adherence to privacy and freedom-of-information laws.
Sgt. Fab Giuliani's report recognized the drone program's limited flight abilities in adverse weather and extended deployments. Despite having four drones and 11 trained members, the police force sometimes requires assistance from Hamilton Fire Department and Mohawk College for their more robust devices.
While the meeting didn't delve into potential costs, Giuliani suggested expanding the program by raising the number of pilots and units available. He expressed concern over relying on external agencies which might be required elsewhere.
Hamilton emphasized the RPAS' benefits: “The RPAS, like other technologies, further enhances police response to many situations. And assists in improving community and officer safety.”
Notably, the report clarified that the police force has never entertained the idea of weaponizing their drones or incorporating facial recognition technology.
Photo courtesy of The Toronto Star.
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