Free as a bird

Devon and Cornwall Police has launched the first dedicated police drone unit in the UK. It appears, as we go to print, not to have crashed into anything, yet.

Jul 19, 2017

Devon and Cornwall Police has launched the first dedicated police drone unit in the UK. It appears, as we go to print, not to have crashed into anything, yet. This is because of the careful testing previously undertaken by the Merseyside, Gwent, Kent and Dorset forces. Devon and Cornwall officers are clearly racked by guilt, and have promised to share their learning with other forces. Their permanent unit has three full-time staff, and they hope to use their six drones to track suspects in firearms incidents, counter-terrorism operations, at crime scenes and road collisions. They also hope to “help scour the force’s 600 miles (900km) of coastline and extensive woodlands” to “help combat wildlife”. Why are they combating wildlife? Isn’t that what global warming and the North Wales Police traffic tactics are for? The drones have already been used to find missing people and gather evidence to secure court convictions, and the force aims to have 40 officers and up to 18 drones in full-time operation by the start of 2018, by which time they will constitute around 64 per cent of the force establishment, and will find it difficult to identify anyone to follow-up their sightings. Would it not be easier to just give the drones to G4S and get it over with? No doubt it is readying a bid as it could procure thousands from China and use them to monitor offenders who slip out of the tags G4S will supply as a result of winning the latest Ministry of Justice contract. The new unit does not have to comply with all amended rules on flying drones introduced in November 2016; it can only be a matter of time before civil liberty groups and the surveillance commissioner start to examine how officers are using the devices. While the biggest headlines could come when a police drone downs a jumbo jet, I understand the greater concern for scrutiny bodies is over the potential for people to be inadvertently captured on drones’ cameras as they quietly float above houses and gardens without being noticed. Five hundred pages of College of Policing guidance can only be months, or an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation, away as no self-respecting police squad will miss the opportunity for fun that the public has evidently discovered from these remote control machines. Meanwhile, a US police officer responding to a 911 call about a possible assault in Minneapolis has shot and killed an Australian woman. An investigation is underway but it will be hampered by the fact that the officers’ body cameras were not turned on at the time, which seems to make them kind of useless. The Australian media claims that the 40-year old woman was living with her fiancé and had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home. She had previously taught meditation classes at a spiritual community centre, having studied to be a veterinarian before qualifying as a yoga instructor, personal health and life coach and meditation teacher. It is early days, and a search for other video footage is underway, but she doesn’t seem to fit any of the stereotypes routinely applied to victims of police shootings, which is probably why there are no reports of rioting so far. Sadly, the officer’s name is Mohammed, but I understand White House officials have seized President Trump’s iPad in case he hears. Whatever happened at this incident, it seems to have been an extreme response, even for our American colleagues, and we can expect some distance learning courses on switching on body cameras to be rolled out as a matter of urgency. Yours, Stitch

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