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Police confirm spy drone purchase

Sunday 23 Dec 2012 4:35 p.m.

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Police have confirmed to 3 News they have purchased a spy drone or unmanned aerial vehicle for use in criminal investigations.

They say at this stage the technology, used in war zones such as Gaza and Afghanistan, is only being trialled here.

Greg O’Connor of the Police Association says it is an innovative breakthrough for the force.

“It’s smarter, it’s cheaper, it’s more efficient,” he says.  “Why wouldn’t police use it?”

Police initially refused to talk to 3 News about their potential use of drones, but more details were released after a complaint was submitted to the ombudsman.

It has now been revealed they have been working with Palmerston North company Hawkeye UAV Limited, which director Rolland Harrison says is running an international operation.

“We are operating now in countries as diverse as Mongolia, Turkey, South Africa, Canada and the United States,” he says.  “We’ve had a lot of support from the Government.”

Surveillance drones were used extensively during the recent violence between Israel and Gaza, but Mr Harrison says its drones are only used for commercial activities.

“The technology could in theory be used for military use, but the companies that we are working with are aerial mapping companies and surveyors,” he says.

Police say the craft could provide high resolution images, infrared images for flying at night, and 3D images which can be manipulated to assist operational planning.

Already there are concerns about whether a law change might be necessary to use images and video as evidence in court.

Privacy campaigners are worried, but Mr O’Connor says innocent members of the public have nothing to fear.

“What these devices do is increase surveillance capability and at less risk to helicopter pilots,” he says.  “It's just better technology.”

Police have already used drones twice during recent investigations, and will decide in the coming months whether the technology could be here to stay.

3 News

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