VPD: $114K on drones

The Vancouver Police Department has purchased three drones worth more than $100,000 that it wants to deploy in a number of scenarios, including searching for missing persons, mapping crime scenes and responding to disasters.

The use of the drones, which cost $112,226, has to first be approved by the Vancouver Police Board, which will review a policy Thursday that provides guidelines for deployment of the remotely controlled flying machines.

If approved, the VPD wants to get the drones in the air before the end of the year. Their deployment will depend on how quickly officers can get trained and obtain Transport Canada certification.

“The system will greatly enhance our ability to keep the city safe,” said Supt. Steve Eely of the VPD’s operations section in a news release issued Tuesday.

“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.”

The department also purchased three smaller drones for a total cost of $2,000 that it plans to strictly use for training purposes, according to a VPD report that accompanies its policy proposal.

The VPD news release says the drones will not be used for surveillance, although the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner raised concerns about that statement in a letter to the department in June.

The June 10 letter was in response to a 13-page “privacy impact statement” the VPD sent the commissioner’s office regarding the use of drones.

Julie Downs, a policy analyst with the commissioner’s office, suggested personal information unrelated to the intended purpose of a drone being deployed may inadvertently be captured during an operational flight or training exercise.

But, she said, her understanding is the VPD’s proposed policy does not allow for random surveillance, “except in exigent circumstances where there is an imminent risk to life or safety and with permission from the duty officer or designate.”

The VPD’s impact assessment said all collected data will be encrypted on the devices and access will be limited to officers who have “a need-to-know the information and who have the appropriate security screening level.”

Downs said the impact assessment indicates the VPD will destroy collected data that has “no evidentiary value” after 30 days, but will retain data deemed to have “an evidentiary value” for at least one year.

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