THUNDER BAY - Police are deploying a new tool that will provide an entirely new perspective on investigations and may even save lives.
The Thunder Bay Police Service launched a new unmanned aerial vehicle this week and Sgt. Gordon Snyder said it will not only assist officers in gathering evidence of outdoor scenes, but will also allow them to more effectively search for missing persons.
“It’s just another piece of equipment that adds to public safety and our ability to effectively investigate and gather evidence in regard to those investigation,” Snyder said. “The public safety aspect is very important. We have another tool we are able to look for people in distress or missing people.”
The UAV will be used to investigate serious or fatal traffic collisions, gather evidence of outdoor crime scenes, and aid in the search of missing persons in difficult or wooded terrain.
“It has capabilities with video cameras and an infrared camera as well,” Snyder said. “So we are able to see people we wouldn’t be able to find quite as easily before, we will be able to find them quite quickly in some circumstances with this unit.”
Five officers, including Snyder, are trained to fly the UAV. Training involved ground school pilot training to learn about flight and how to operate the unit, as well as obtaining the proper certifications to comply with federal legislation involving flying drones or UAVs.
“It is not something we can just pick up and fly on a whim,” Snyder said. “There is contact with air traffic control tower, and a whole lot of procedures and legislation we have to abide by.”
The UAV is operated by at least three officers, with one piloting the unit, a second operating the camera, and a third officer acting as a spotter.
Air traffic control must be notified any time the UAV is used in order to receive clearance, but Snyder said in emergency situations, clearance can be granted immediately.
The UAV can be grounded in certain circumstances, Snyder added, with weather and visibility being the biggest hindrance.
“We can only fly it in ideal circumstances,” Snyder said. “We have to be able to see it at all times. So if line of sight is obstructed in any way due to fog, or snow, or even heavy rain, then we wouldn’t be flying it.”
The total cost of purchasing the UAV is $89,699, and Snyder said the unit is much more complex than something the public can purchase at a local electronics store.
“We suspect it’s going to make quite a difference,” Snyder said. “Even just for that one case where we maybe are able to locate a vulnerable person in a wooded area for example, it’s worth every penny.”