News Views: Eyes in the sky

Thoughts on aerial drones being used by a security company in Maple Ridge

A private security firm that patrols downtown Maple Ridge has purchased two aerial drones – remote-controlled aircraft like those used in combat zones.

The drones cost $4,000 and $12,000. They have a maximum flight time of 40 minutes, are generally cheaper than flying a helicopter, and sound more like a lawn mower.

Each pilot must follow Canadian Aviation Regulations and hold a Special Flight Operation Certificate.

RCMP and other Canadian police forces use them already, for traffic control and tactical surveillance. Drones can also assist in accident reconstructions, provide live intelligence on potential threats, or support search and rescue operations.

But they are not used to spy in bedroom windows. They can, however, carry infra-red cameras and those with facial recognition capabilities, which raises privacy concerns.

The drones will not be used for regular patrols in downtown Maple Ridge, which already has cameras mounted on downtown buildings, and inside businesses.

Thefts and break-ins, drug use and drug deals, as well as prostitution continue to haunt the downtown area. It’s one reason why the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Association hires Westridge Security.

But the drones won’t be used to discourage such activity, at least not yet. More so they will survey properties by owner’s request, identifying homeless camps and marijuana grow operations,

Still, rules must be established for the use of the drones in Maple Ridge, to ensure images are only retained when there is reasonable suspicion they contain evidence of a crime or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or trial. The drones should only be used for specific purposes, which should not be decided by police.

Usage policies should be clear and open to the public, with audits and oversight, to prevent misuse. As well, domestic drones should not be equipped with lethal or non-lethal weapons.

Beyond that, they could save a life.

– The News