Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have the potential to help the Queensland Police Service (QPS) with situations such as sieges where officers’ lives could be put at risk, according to QPS Superintendent Brian Huxley.
Speaking before a Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs in Brisbane on 21 March, Huxley told the Committee that the QPS currently has two drones which are only used in high risk situations to gain an “upper hand”.
“The first operation was in an emergency situation that involved a siege in Brisbane on the 26th of December 2013 involving two hostages,” said Huxley.
“QPS is examining the future potential of this technology in a number of other operational contexts, including – but not limited to – the forensic examination of major scenes such as industrial fires and other hazardous situations.”
In addition, he said that QPS is looking at the potential for drones in search and rescue situations where human access is limited. For example, the drone could take aerial video of the area to help rescuers find people.
According to Huxley, the Queensland government has partnered in a research project led by the Brisbane-based Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation into drone usage.
“Through that, the QPS has recently recommended a number of law enforcement priorities for UAVs such as rapid video capture and 3D mapping of crime scenes.” The Committee then asked Huxley about the potential privacy issues with drones and if QPS was aware of this.
“We have gone into this project understanding that the use is limited to overt activities. It’s very obvious [to the public] that we are using this technology. There is no intention to do anything that is not overt.”
He pointed out that the devices are noisy when flying under 400 feet, so the QPS could not use them for covert operations such as monitoring gang activity or stakeouts.
The Committee then asked what would happen if the QPS needed to send a drone onto private property and if a search warrant would be needed.
“If we were conducting any form of covert activity on private property we would need to be compliant with the legislation,” said Huxley.
He was then asked by the Committee what happened with the data that was captured by drone video or photos.
“We have existing robust processes in which we manage information and we would not be stepping outside that realm. Whether it is a camera that is being held by a person or a CCTV or drone camera, those images would still be subject to the same rules we already use,” Huxley said.
In August 2013, QPS announced that it had rolled out a Statewide Access to Seized Digital Evidence (SASDE) storage system to house electronic evidence.