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Law enforcement taking advantage of drones' surveillance potential

By Staff

The falling cost of drone technology could revolutionize certain types of surveillance, says MKD International Inc. founding partner and managing director Jim Downs.

Downs tells law enforcement agencies have already embraced unmanned aircraft for operations involving the pursuit of vehicles, particularly in rural settings.

“From a policing standpoint, drones are becoming more of a practical and cost-effective form of aerial surveillance. The cost and other logistical issues related to aerial surveillance by a piloted aircraft in comparison to a remotely operated surveillance drone are relevant considerations for law enforcement,” says Downs, a former 22-year veteran with the Toronto Police Service before he formed MKD.

“Drones are much easier to manoeuvre than a plane,” he adds.

In fact, his own firm is looking into the possibility of an agreement with a third party to become a licensed drone pilot, so that MKD can add a new set of tools to its surveillance arsenal.

According to Transport Canada regulations, drones flown for work or research require the operator to hold a Special Flight Operations Certificate.

The licensing requirements also apply to the use of any drone weighing more than 35 kg, but Downs says unmanned vehicles for air surveillance do not typically need to be that hefty.

“For us, actual drone size is less of an issue than the photographic equipment required on it,” he says. “Drone size usually comes down to battery storage capability and load capacity so if you wanted it to stay up for a very long time, you might need a bigger one with a larger storage capacity.”

However, Downs says there are still barriers to the use of drones in certain situations, particularly in an urban setting.

“It’s pretty tough to operate a drone legally in built-up urban areas,” he says. “If you’re operating somewhere like the Greater Toronto Area, where there are many buildings and other urban-related obstacles, you’re pretty restricted in terms of where you can fly a drone and its elevation.”

Even if regulations were loosened to allow drones to fly closer to the ground in cities, Downs says that would open up a whole other can of legal worms.

“There are privacy issues you would have to take into consideration too,” he says. “I don’t think the regulatory requirements will change in terms of urban settings much.”

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