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UAS in Police Investigations: Assisting the cops

Canadian Mounted Police use unmanned aircraft systems to conduct aerial photography for reconstruction of crime and accident scenes

Police accident reconstructionists are required to conduct a thorough investigation in case of serious motor vehicle accidents, covering all aspects of the incidents to determine the cause and effect. Th is requires that the investigator documents the entire scene, including obtaining measurements and specific placement/ location of vehicles, victims and objects involved. It is also best if a record of any skid marks and road conditions can be recorded. The more detail is obtained, the more complete and accurate the analysis of the event will be. It is crucial that all interested parties are provided with an accurate analysis of the actual sequence of events. Often detailed documentation of such scenes take in excess of 6 hours to complete the site and involve several investigators and support personnel.

To provide the best analysis of these types of accidents, Doug Green, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police “F” Division Forensic Collision Reconstructionist, utilised a remote-controlled helicopter equipped with a digital still camera to conduct aerial photography of the scene. When utilised with other technologies, Green was able to obtain accurate measurements from the photographs, and conduct a more in-depth analysis of the scene. Th is allowed him to present a complete visual representation of events.

Traditionally, most investigations of this nature are conducted solely at ground level. But utilising UAS such as the Draganflyer X6 remote controlled helicopter system, Green has been able to investigate various types of scenes obtaining aerial perspectives and overall views. Previously, the resources required to obtain these views were too costly or not readily available to him. In 2012, Greene logged 99 missions with a total accumulated flight time of 11 hours. These included 13 traffic collision scenes, six crime scenes, two search scenes, and one emergency response team tactical scene with the X6.

With the portability and versatility of the Draganflyer X6, photographs were easily obtained of almost any scene. In addition, live video allowed the investigator to see the kind and quality of photographs being taken to ensure requirements were met. The ability to obtain aerial photographs reduced the time spent documenting the crime/accident scene. The high quality of the imagining allowed for continued and further analysis of the scene without risk of the scene being altered.

There are certain limitations associated with the use of remote controlled aerial systems. These include the capabilities of the aircraft and pilots, weather conditions and regulations involving the use of airspace. Most countries consider the operation of any type of unmanned aircraft for this type of application to be “commercial use” and require the agency and pilot to conform to strict regulations and licensing protocols.