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Drones increasingly used in daily police work

Hundreds of police officers in Finland have already been trained to use drones.

drooni ja lentäjä
Police Superintendent Sami Hätönen says the Finnish public has taken a positive attitude towards police use of drones. Image: Marko Melto / Yle

In many countries, the use of drones by police is considered for special operations, and is therefore rarely deployed. In Finland, drones are already everyday devices that are likely to become a regular part of every police officer's toolkit.

So far, over 400 police officers have been trained to operate drones and more than 200 of the aerial vehicles are in official use.

Superintendent Sami Hätönen of Finland's Police University College calls the introduction of drones "the start of a success story" and described the resultsalready achieved as "encouraging".

Hätönen was with the National Police Board in 2015 when he was asked to examine the use of drones in police work. As a photography enthusiast, he was keen to explore the technology.

At that time, police in Finland had only a few drones in use.

"I'm the worst sort of turncoat. I'm told that I once said publicly that this was something that the police shouldn't get involved with," Hätönen laughs.

Starting from zero

As soon as he started looking at drone technology, Hätönen was convinced of the benefits that unmanned aerial vehicles could provide law enforcement officials.

"We started from zero. We had no funding earmarked. One doesn't always need a major development project. Sometimes the wisdom needed is found in the field," he says.

Story continues after photo.

drooni ja lentäjä
Sami Hätönen teaches operational capabilities at the Police University College and sees drones as an important aid in situation management. Image: Marko Melto / Yle

Drones are most widely used by police for documentation, in searches and for situation analysis. Forensic investigators use them to gather data by recording crime scenes. They are used to track fleeing criminals and supply information how to catch the bad guys.

Drones, often equipped with infrared cameras, are also widely used in Finland in searches for missing persons. According to Hätönen, it's been shown that these devices can save lives.

Over the past three years, police have used drones in management and security operations involving large public gatherings, such as events during Finland's Presidency of the Council of the European Union and during Independence Day celebrations.

Story continues after photo.

drooni ja lentäjä
In future drones are likely to be a regular part of every police officer's toolkit. Image: Marko Melto / Yle

"We can observe movements of crowds from the air and initiate the pre-emptive deployment of a police presence where needed," Hätönen explains.

Customised "supermarket drones"

For the most part, police in Finland use the same kind of drones that any member of the public can buy from a local shop.

"We even rely on ordinary supermarket drones. They have an unfailingly good cost-to-quality ratio," Hätönen notes.

Story continues after photo.

drooni, jossa on valonheitin
This drone can fit into a briefcase, making it easy to carry into the field. Image: Marko Melto / Yle

In addition to infrared cameras, police drones are often fitted with other devices such as daylight cameras and loudspeakers that can be used to communicate with people on the ground up to a kilometre away. Mounted with bright LED spotlights, they light up dark streets and forests.

Drones proliferating

Drones are enjoying massive popularity. In 2018, it was estimated that private individuals owned and operated far more drones than were in use by officials.

This has also meant a growing number of air traffic and air space violations.

Police Superintendent Hätönen compares these to traffic offences.

"Some people are motivated to observe traffic regulations, but still they will sometimes break the rules. There are others, though, who intentionally want to use unmanned aerial vehicles to commit crimes."

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