Ontario Provincial Police say a new drone they acquired recently for deployment out of Thunder Bay is frequently in use, and proving its value.
The Aeryon SkyRanger, which transmits a live video feed, went into service last fall. In the field, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can be piloted remotely for a distance of close to 1.5 kilometres at a height of 100 metres.
Traffic Sergeant Dave Bel told tbnewswatch.com that drones are an evolving technology for police work, but the OPP across the province in recent years have laid a lot of groundwork for other police services interested in acquiring them.
In the Thunder Bay region, the SkyRanger is on call for various missions including surveillance of traffic collision sites, criminal investigations, crime scene analysis and search and rescue.
At collisions, Bel said, the drone will measure and map the accident site. "It's actually taking snapshots at pre-determined distances and times. Then we can take the snapshots, 'stitch them' together, and put them into an overlay profile of what the crash scene looked like." He added that the efficiency of the system can expedite the reopening of a highway following a collision.
Bel said the UAV was also called into action recently in the search for a missing man in the Terrace Bay area. He said the drone was requested because it's equipped with a forward-looking infrared camera that can detect heat signatures. "It can be put up in the sky and have a look over areas that it would take a great amount of time for officers to get into," and search for heat given off by the human body,
As it happened, bad weather grounded the drone during the assignment on the north shore, but OPP recently used UAVs elsewhere in Ontario to locate missing people in two separate instances.
The Thunder Bay-based unit has also been deployed to the international border south of the city to watch out for a wanted criminal from the U.S. Bel said the OPP received a report in the fall of "a possible sighting of a fugitive coming across the border, and we put the flyer down on one of the border lakes to patrol the shoreline."
Two OPP officers are currently assigned to pilot the drone, and their skills are kept sharp by four hours of training each month. A third officer based in Kenora can operate the drone when it's required in that area, but Bel said the Kenora detachment is likely to get its own unit in the near future.
A spokesperson for Thunder Bay police said the city force tried unsuccessfully to secure a grant to purchase a drone for its own use, however it expects to include it in next year's budget.