Why P.E.I. RCMP is training more officers to fly drones

It’s been three and a half years since P.E.I. RCMP trained its first five drone pilots and just last week, eight more members were added to the team. 

“As time goes on we’re seeing more and more calls where a drone is useful,” said RCMP Staff-Sgt. Kevin Baillie, the drone co-ordinator for RCMP on the Island.

“Drone technology has improved and we have expanded our drone fleet, increased our capabilities and also trained additional pilots.” 

Baillie said these devices are primarily used as aerial cameras at collision scenes and crime scenes. But, he said they can also be used for search and rescue.

A picture is always worth 1,000 words, whereas now with a video it is worth 10,000.— Cst. Steve MacDonnell

“Before we acquired drones, generally the only way to get an aerial photo was to use a helicopter or an aircraft which was much more expensive,” he said. 

Saving money

According to Baillie, the entire drone fleet in the province costs roughly $30,000. Approximately the same as 10 or 15 hours of helicopter time, he said. 

Currently, he said there are 14 active pilots in the P.E.I. RCMP. One of those is Cst. Steve MacDonnell. 

‘It’s convenient at crime scenes and it’s very easy to use,’ says forensic expert Steve MacDonnell, one of eight officers recently trained to fly drones. (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

“I enjoy flying the drone, it’s very useful for us at crime scenes,” he said. 

“A picture is always worth 1,000 words, whereas now with a video it is worth 10,000.” 

MacDonnell is a forensic expert and said having access to a drone makes looking for evidence faster and easier. 

RCMP drones can also be used to help firefighters respond to fires. ( RCMP PEI)

“It’s very useful for sure,” said MacDonnell. “It saves getting a ladder and getting on a roof.

“We can look for paths the perpetrator could have taken to get to the home.”

So far, MacDonnell has only been trained to fly a smaller drone, but he said he’d like to upgrade and learn to operate one of the larger devices used for search and rescue. 

Drones are not for surveillance

For MacDonnell and Baillie, tools like this improve the safety of officers and also allow a better understanding of incidents or crimes.

But Baillie said the drones are never used to imvade people’s private lives.

Kevin Baillie created the drone program in Prince Edward Island. He has trained dozens of RCMP officers in the Maritimes since 2016. (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

“We can’t invade anybody’s privacy unless we get a search warrant authorized by a judge,” he said.

“To this point on P.E.I. we have not used drones for surveillance and nor do we have any plans to.”

For now, Baillie said he has no plans to train additional drone pilots on P.E.I. or purchase more devices. Instead, he prefers to watch how the technology grows and share his expertise with other RCMP in the Maritimes.

“We do all work together and we share information on the drones we’re using,” he said.

More from CBC P.E.I.

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