Windsor

'We don't have a flying drone right now': Windsor police say drone program still in early stages

Windsor police Sgt. Betteridge says the force's drone would be deployed on a case-by-case basis, and wouldn't be a general surveillance tool.

'Another tool to assist us to help keep our community safe'

Sgt. Steve Betteridge say that Windsor police's drone program is still in its early stages. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Windsor police say the force's drone program, whose existence was previously confirmed by documents obtained by CBC News, is still in its early stages.

According to public information officer Sgt. Steve Betteridge, Windsor police "don't have a full program laid out yet."

"We don't have directives set out on it yet, and that is the process that we're going through right now," said Betteridge.

Documents obtained through a municipal Freedom of Information request confirmed that the drone program has been in development since at least January 2019, with an initial pilot candidate list determined in February. 

The six-person drone unit has already conducted training, led by Waterloo-based Aeryon Labs — the company responsible for manufacturing the drone in Windsor police possession.

Training was included in the undisclosed cost of purchasing the Aeryon Labs device. 

'Case-by-case' deployment

Betteridge said that Windsor police would likely use the drone in circumstances like accident reconstruction and search and rescue operations, and that the force would deploy the drone on a case-by-case basis.

He provided a hypothetical example of an armed individual barricaded in a building as an instance when the drone might be deployed.

"And during that investigation, we brought in the drone for more information as to where this person was or what weapon they may have, then that could become evidence to use later on in [a] court case, if there were any changes," said Betteridge.

Betteridge also said that Windsor police would make the public aware of drone operations on a case-by-case basis, adding that "it's not a general surveillance type of tool."

He added that the drone won't be "Big Brother looking over our shoulder and taking a look at what I may or may not be doing in my backyard when there's no call for services, there's no allegation, there's no active investigation."

... it's not a general surveillance type of tool.- Sgt. Steve Betteridge, Windsor Police Service

"This is … another tool to assist us to help keep our community safe," said Betteridge.

Since the drone program is still in development, Betteridge doesn't know the final price tag.

According to Betteridge, the force looked to other municipal law enforcement agencies when creating the local program.

"We're consulting with them, getting best practices as well and just looking at how technology can assist our community," said Betteridge. "We are very satisfied that this can be a tool to help keep everyone safe and be incredibly effective and efficient."

Issues previously raised

University of Windsor law professor Kristen Thomasen previously voiced concerns about Windsor police potentially deploying drones.

Thomasen said she's worried about "mission creep… the idea that a technology that's adopted for one purpose or a small group of purposes can then be expanded into other more invasive uses or potentially invasive use."

Thomasen also previously said that automated technologies with defined use cases can be adapted for other circumstances.

"There's that possibility that the technology actually extends into other areas where we start to get into concerns around civil liberties and our Charter rights being violated," she said.

According to Ontario information and privacy commissioner Brian Beamish, Ontario's privacy laws don't require that organizations contact his office when "implementing a new program such as drones."

"We do strongly encourage any organization, including municipal law enforcement agencies, to contact the IPC if they are considering acquiring drones or other technology that could pose a risk to Ontarians' privacy," he wrote, in an email. 

Beamish previously told CBC news that anyone concerned about the use of drones by law enforcement can contact his office. 

With files from Katerina Georgieva

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