Vancouver police drones will not be used to surveil public, superintendent says

The Vancouver Police Department says it is set to add drones to its arsenal of crime fighting and peace keeping tools.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, the superintendent of police operations said remotely-piloted aerial systems, or RPAS, have already been in use in other police jurisdictions across the country.

"The system will greatly enhance our ability to keep the city safe. We are committed to full transparency with our policy for the use of the equipment and want Vancouver residents to fully understand when and how the equipment will be used," Superintendent Steve Eely said.

The department said it has a number of uses for the drones in mind, such as investigations of motor vehicle incidents, search and rescue operations and crime scene and disaster zone response where there is a high degree of risk to life.

Tom Steepe/CBC

It also wants to assure the public the drones will not be used for public surveillance. Its policy was developed in concert with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, as well as the BC Civil Liberties Association.

The department's operational drones include a larger unit and two smaller units, and it has also purchased three other drones to be used in training.

Transport Canada updated its set of regulations governing personal and commercial use of the remotely controlled units on April 1.

It says all pilots must be certified by passing an online exam. All drones must be registered and pilots must be at least 14 years old for basic operations and 16 for advanced operations, unless supervised by a person having proper qualifications.

But the federal institution does not govern how police use them.

If the police drone policy is approved at a police board meeting Thursday, the VPD said it will begin using them before the end of 2019.