Delta Police: Drones increase public safety capabilities

IN August, Delta Police launched its new drone program as part of its overall public safety mandate.

The drones can fly day or night in a wide variety of weather. The pilots are police officers who have completed ground school training and hold a Transport Canada Advanced Remotely Piloted Aircraft System license.

“We will be using the drones in a variety of circumstances, such as helping to locate high-risk missing people, to document crime scenes and major collisions, provide structure and wildfire assistance to Delta Fire Department and for disaster response,” said Superintendent Harj Sidhu, Head of Operations for Delta Police.

The drones provide situational awareness of events that police cannot gain from the ground level, assisting in guiding the police response and ensuring proper resource management.

For example, police used a drone recently to assess crowd size and direction to help ensure pedestrian safety during gatherings after Canucks games on the Surrey/Delta border. And in August a drone was also used to help search for a missing senior with dementia.

All missions must be planned and approved under strict policy, and approved by a DPD police manager. NavCanada guidelines are closely followed.

“We understand there could be concerns from the public in regard to expectation of privacy, now that this program is in effect,” acknowledged Sidhu. “I’d like to reassure the public that this expectation of privacy is considered in all circumstances, particularly in regard to the retention of any videos or images. Furthermore, our pilots will ensure that express and informed permission or judicial authorization is granted, unless there are exigent circumstances.”

He noted this expectation of privacy is a key element of the drone operating procedures established by the department.  For example, if the drone is launched in a residential area due to a critical incident, and films someone in their backyard, that person’s image would be blurred should the photo or video be required in court.

The drones are not covert and have navigation lights, so the public can reasonably expect to see them in a variety of circumstances.

“Given Delta’s complex geography including extensive coastline, large parks, and Burns Bog, having the capabilities to do aerial searches in a variety of weather was important to us from a public safety perspective,” said Sidhu.

The drone program costs approximately $120,000 in total, shared in part with Delta Fire Department.