A means of transport, but not only. Drones, a tool for delivering drugs, blood and organs by air, have also taken on a new role in road safety and governance.
In a supporting role, alongside law enforcement, used as a kind of 'police drone', the aircraft combines human intelligence with artificial intelligence and advanced technology. Over time, they have become an essential new tool of smart cities to prevent and monitor threats to public health and safety, to detect environmental or building abuses and for improved urban and suburban traffic management.
The experience, in Italy as abroad, is revolutionising both crime control and the management of 'public affairs'. Despite the doubts raised by some observers concerning the respect of citizens' privacy, it is now widely accepted that drones can be a useful tool in the hands of officers. But also for the fire brigade or civil defence, which can use the eye of the drones in search and rescue missions.
In smart cities, the drone makes it possible to improve traffic management and investigate accidents. “Drones have had a radical impact not only in traffic management, but also in the reconstruction of road accidents,” Gaetano Barione, secretary general of the Professional Association of Local Police of Italy, explains to Infra Journal. “Traffic police are now able to reduce the time it takes to map a location and acquire evidence. In addition, the data they collect can be used to make traffic flow better on major roads, in addition to being of better quality than the data obtained by previous methods, which took hours.”
Besides having great precision and being sustainably powered (without fossil fuels), drones offer several advantages. “They can be deployed by the police for a variety of observation missions, such as scouting key or suspicious areas, gaining vital situational awareness to better define deployment tactics, and monitoring crowd behaviour and movement.”
All with a different perspective. “CCTV cameras can be vandalised or covered up. The height of a drone makes this difficult, if not impossible. In preparation of a large event, these tools can be used to prevent critical problems such as heavy traffic and threats to public safety, for example, in protest marches. Obviously, all this in compliance with current legislation, the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act, which had its second reading in Parliament in January 2020,” Barione concludes.
An ace for judicial investigations
The main area of interest of UAS (unmanned aircraft system) for local police forces concerns video-photographic survey operations, as these systems enable the monitoring of operational scenarios and the transmission back to the ground of images and data, which are useful for investigations in the various fields of competence to support the decision-making activities of the judicial authorities.
UAS systems can be useful in photogrammetric missions in large areas, remotely or in adverse environmental conditions, where traditional aerial means may find impediments or limitations in protecting the safety of operating personnel and people being flown over. However, “the relative ease and versatility of using UAS systems is contrasted by the complexity of managing them in the airspace since, being aircraft to all intents and purposes, it is necessary to comply with all aeronautical regulations aimed at ensuring the safety of flight operations and of third parties flown over,” explains the National Civil Aviation Authority.
In order to be able to use the drone, police forces (like all other public bodies) need certified pilots, prepared to handle any situation that may arise. Enac, the single authority for technical regulation, certification, supervision and control, issues authorisations for operations in a specific category, pursuant to EU Regulation 2019/947, in which most of these operations fall.
Many municipalities turn to the authority to sign conventions and memoranda of understanding to facilitate the work of local police forces in compliance with European legislation. Enac also promotes agreements at regional and national level (with Anci, the national association of local authorities) in order to standardise procedures and facilitate development in the field of Innovative Air Mobility.
In the world
Among the countries that have made drones a security ally, in China they have served as law enforcement 'agents' during the Covid stages urging people not to walk around without wearing a mask. In Dubai, Indonesia and France they are used to disinfect the streets. In Ireland, legislation is being modified to allow police officers to make use of remotely piloted aircraft in various circumstances, including using the images and videos collected for the benefit of investigations. To date, in fact, Dublin imposes privacy provisions limiting the storage of data obtained from drones.
In the United States, they are now considered almost a common presence in cities. In the skies above Chula Vista, the police department runs a drone programme for ten hours a day, seven days a week, with four launch sites and it is not uncommon to see an unmanned aircraft whizzing by. An officer about to enter a flat where there is a potential suspect can radio for support from one of the department's 29 drones. Having this aerial reconnaissance resource at their disposal has become normal for the officers of the Californian town.