Eye in the sky cops expand their horizons
TOODYAY police have taken another big leap into hi-tech law enforcement by qualifying to become commercial pilots.
They won’t be flying jumbo jets any time soon but are now licensed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to patrol Toodyay’s skies with new highly sophisticated police drones.
Sen. Const. Joe Neal (pictured below) and I have completed formal training to obtain commercial remote pilots’ licences to fly two new police drones that started operating in Toodyay and Northam last month.
The drones are equipped with video screen handsets, high-resolution colour and infra-red cameras, vehicle number plate and facial recognition software and can operate at a maximum distance of 15km from a controller in winds of up to 55km/h.
The new law enforcement capability follows the introduction of vehicle number plate recognition cameras on police cars, high-tech security cameras in the towns’ business district, and mobile phone links to an extensive WA police criminal database.
Most people may not know it is illegal to fly a drone without a CASA licence.
They also probably don’t know that much of the sky over Toodyay is restricted airspace because it is regularly used by the RAAF for flight training exercises.
All of Northam airspace is also restricted because is it used by aircraft landing and taking off from the local airfield.
Anyone who uses a drone is required by law to undergo flight training and obtain a $2000 operating licence from CASA.
Flying a drone in restricted airspace requires a licensed operator to submit a CASA flight plan that includes the purpose of the flight, designated landing areas, a risk management strategy and approvals to meet other regulatory requirements.
The maximum penalty for flying a drone illegally is $12,000 for each offence.
Northam flyer fined $24,000
A Northam man was recently fined a total of $24,000 on two counts of flying a drone in restricted airspace over a populated area without a commercial pilot’s licence.
Toodyay police generally use education to inform local drone operators about legal requirements.
Apart from air safety, there are also legal protections for property and personal privacy.
It is illegal to fly a drone over another person’s property to spy on them.
It is also an offence to publish or distribute material recorded illegally by a drone operator even if it reveals an unlawful act being committed.
Firing a gun or aiming a laser at a drone is also illegal and can attract a heavy penalty – including jail – because drones are classed as aircraft.
Toodyay’s new police drones are being used to search for missing people, locate drug crops, track offenders and detect stolen property.
They can also lock onto a selected target and automatically follow it.
Remote control arrest
In one recent case, a police drone was used to conduct airborne surveillance of a Toodyay house to monitor suspected drug offenders and vehicle movements.
The drone identified a female visitor with a record of drug and alcohol offences who was found also to have an outstanding arrest warrant for failure to appear in court.
The information was captured from a height of 100 feet and relayed to a police video handset more than a kilometre away.
Screen vision displayed on drone handsets can also be sent wirelessly to a larger monitor in the police station.
A third case involved a man flying a drone from his back veranda at home to record what was happening on a farming property next door.
The drone was being flown from a populated area and illegally recording private activity.
The operator was cautioned and told he needed a licence to continue flying legally.
One of Toodyay’s two new police drones – a Matrice M300 – weighs 6.3kg, costs $50,000 and has a high-resolution camera that can record video images at 30 frames per second.
It can operate at a height of up to 400 feet (122m) and use number plate and facial recognition technology to identify a vehicle and its driver up to half a kilometre away.
Body heat search
The drone also has infra-red capability to detect the body heat from people in water or on land and can even locate items dropped by fleeing offenders by tracing remnant body heat on discarded material.
And all this can by done by a police officer using a handset up to 15km away.
It makes police work a much higher tech job than it used to be – the advances are enormous.
Part of the latest training included how to move drones around a tall building while keeping a police camera trained on it and how to evade airborne attacks by eagles.
Drones can also be used at crime scenes to see things that might not be obvious at ground
level or during the use of search warrants to watch for offenders trying to escape through concealed exits.
The aim is not to create a “Big Brother is Watching You” environment but to help prevent criminal activity, save lives, protect property and create a safer local community.
WE ARE still seeing too many serious vehicle crashes locally.
There were three last month and three vehicles were written off but thankfully nobody was seriously hurt.
We can do better than that.
Often it’s a case of motorists driving too fast and losing control of their vehicles – people driving beyond their capabilities.
If this is happening on bright sunny days with ideal weather for driving, it concerns me what might happen when winter sets in and local road conditions deteriorate.
Toodyay police will be spending more time on local roads and I have also asked the Wheatbelt Traffic Unit – which operates about half a dozen marked and unmarked police cars – to increase their radar speed patrols in and around Toodyay.
We also do about 400 random traffic stops a month locally for alcohol and drug testing, and that will continue.
Knock, knock – who’s there?
A REMINDER, if you call at the Toodyay Police Station and find it locked, it doesn’t mean nobody is working, only that we’re all out and about doing our job.
The office is open 9am to 4pm Monday to Wednesday except on public holidays, and 90 per cent of the time somebody will be there to answer at the front counter, unless perhaps they have ducked across the road briefly to buy take-away lunch or coffee.
The rest of the time, please call 131 444 seven days a week, including after hours, for your inquiry to be relayed back to us.
That is the reality of every WA small country police station with limited staff and resources.
I’d rather local officers are out and about doing their job to help keep our community safe than sitting in the office waiting for someone to call or knock at the door.
People can also use their mobile phones or other devices to go online to report a crash or theft or start a licence application.
It might not suit everyone but there are lots of things that can be done online.