Drone lends the police force an extra pair of eyes

Published on 18/03/2022 in Customer talks

Shaking off a tail and laying low in the middle of a field somewhere? Not anymore now that the police can deploy a camera-equipped drone. A textbook example is what they’re currently calling the Klein-Brabant Police District drone.

Drone lends the police force an extra pair of eyes

At the Klein-Brabant Police District, using new technology has become part and parcel of staff routine in recent years. “The advent of smartphones accelerated things dramatically,” recalls First Chief Inspector Herman Peeters. “These days, smartphones give officers in the field access to information that they’d have had to call Dispatch for in the past.” Likewise, smartphones facilitate drawing up official reports on site and directing officers to the scene of a crime or accident as quickly as possible. What’s more, using cameras for license plate recognition has been a revolutionary technological development.

Drone trailblazers

That said, it’s indisputable that the drone is the most spectacular application that’s made the Klein-Brabant Police District trailblazers. In their spare time, Chief Inspector Herman Peeters and First Inspector Peter Vercauteren were already tinkering with drones. “We were instantly struck by the potential of drones to help us during an intervention,” Vercauteren says. “And it wasn’t long after that, that the district purchased its own.” That’s how the Klein-Brabant Police District paved the way for other districts. “They came to us for advice,” said Peeters, “e.g., on how to register and insure drones.”

We use our drone to offer colleagues and other responders aerial support.

Peter Vercauteren, Klein-Brabant Police District First Inspector

An infrared camera adds to the data

The Klein-Brabant Police District drone is equipped with a powerful zoom lens and thermal imaging camera. One officer operates the device on the ground, while a second monitors the cameras and readings. The drone provides aerial support. “I remember a property search by the federal police in our district,” said Peeters. “It was dark out. Nothing showed up in the ordinary pictures, but the infrared camera revealed exactly where the suspect was hiding. When he made a run for it, we tracked him with the drone until the federal force picked him up.”

Real-time incident imaging

Drones can also get an overview from the air. “Of a traffic accident, for example,” said Vercauteren, “or a fire. Thick smoke obscures the fire’s origin. Thermal imaging allows us to provide firefighters with crucial support.” A mobile link allows the cameras to transmit images in real time to the drone team on the ground or – where major incidents are involved – to the command center. “The current 4G Proximus network makes that nearly seamless, even in HD,” said Vercauteren. “No doubt, 5G is bound to add even more to our options in the near future, minus the limitations and delays.”

5G is bound to add even more options in the near future, minus the limitations and delays.

Herman Peeters, Klein-Brabant Police District First Chief Inspector

AI application for image analysis

An example of this kind of additional application is the real-time use of mixed reality, where images overlay a map and facilitate faster, more accurate orientation. “Another application – already currently in use – makes people or vehicles clickable. Once clicked, the drone starts the pursuit,” said Peeters. Essentially, AI provides continuous analysis of footage in real time. And that’s also a case where stable connectivity obviously makes a difference. “After all, unlike drones flown by amateurs, we’re allowed to hover out of sight, including at night.”

Herman Peeters is Klein-Brabant Police District’s First Chief Inspector.

Peter Vercauteren is Klein-Brabant Police District’s First Inspector.

The Klein-Brabant Police District covers the Bornem, Puurs, and Sint-Amands municipalities. Their team has 90 people on its staff. The district provides the 47,000 inhabitants of the two municipalities – a 94 square km area – with technical and logistic support. Next year, the Klein-Brabant Police District and Mechelen-Willebroek Police district will merge into a single district.

In the future, 5G-equipped drones will be dispatched for major incidents.

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