Prison using drones to help stop smuggling

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(CNS): Small unmanned drones are now part of the tools used by the prison service to battle the practice of throwing drugs and contraband over the perimeter fence of HMP Northward, and it appears likely that they will also be used in the near future by the RCIPS, especially to help the Joint Marine Unit with search and rescue operations.

Supplied by local company AirVu, the small unmanned aircraft (SUAs), which are outfitted with cameras, can be very quickly deployed at the prison and used to identify the perpetrators hurling things over the fence before they run into the bush, according to Prison Director Neil Lavis.

The drones are also used to patrol the perimeter fence, and unlike humans, “they don’t get tired and don’t need a drink and don’t need a break”, Lavis explained, describing them as a “significant addition to fight crime” and saying that he is really pleased with the results so far.

He said that in Britain there have been news reports that criminals were using unmanned drones to try and smuggle contraband into the prisons there, so it seemed to him to be a good way to fight back against the same problem here – smuggling things into the facilities.

While none of the private or public officials involved would give details of how many drones are used at the prison or where they are deployed from, citing security concerns, Lavis said, “We are always trying to be on the cutting edge in the fight against drugs and contraband getting into the prisons.”

Commissioner of Police David Baines also indicated the strong likelihood that SUAs would be used by the RCIPS in several capacities and noted that they are used effectively in other jurisdictions.

Baines told CNS that one area where they may be particularly effective is in search and rescue operations and acquiring one for the Joint Marine Unit, to be kept on the back of an RCIPS vessel, is under consideration. He said that using SUAs is potentially very cost effective – a few hundred dollars per deployment in contrast to the RCIPS helicopter, which costs $1,500 to $2,000 per deployment.

Obviously, they cannot be used to pick people up or carry them in medical emergencies, so the chopper will still be necessary, but the drones can be fitted out with infrared equipment that could pick up body heat signals, “which is much better than eyeballs”, the CoP noted.

Another possible use is at scenes of a crime, where the SUAs could take aerial photographs soon after the incident, Baines said. For example, they could get pictures of the positions of the vehicles and victims and skid marks at a road crash, or entrance and escape routes at crime scenes, which could all later be used as evidence in a court of law.

He said the drones could also potentially be used in a hostage or siege situation, where the police need to see what is going on without endangering anyone. The SUAs could fly up to a window and get officers the best information about what’s going on, so if they have to go in they know where people are and where they’re going.

While the prison service has already purchased a so far unspecified number of SUAs, Baines said that there is a possibility that the RCIPS could make arrangements to use them as required now and later buy one when the need for this technology has been proven.

The commissioner said he was certain that drones would, ultimately, become part of the arsenal of the RCIPS for crime scene investigation, search and rescue and “storm in” situations.

At the time the unspecified number of drones were purchased by the prison service, AirVu was the only regulated and CAA compliant small unmanned aircraft operator in the Cayman Islands, so there was no possible competition for the contract, the prison director noted.

The purchase was not made directly with AirVu but with The Security Centre, which subcontracts the drone company as part of the security package that TSC has with the prison service, which CEO Stuart Bostock said includes CCTV cameras and other technology tools that he declined to detail.

The Security Centre, which held its grand opening of their new high-tech facilities at Cayman Technology Centre on Thursday, has several security and crime fighting contracts with government, including managing the technical side of the National CCTV Programme, which now totals around 245 units, making sure they remain operational.

According to Commissioner Baines, this number may increase as private entities, such as hotels, partner with government by paying for cameras that will then be hooked up to the national network. In this way, the private camera would be added to the government system that would monitor the public street, including the hotel.

TSC also has government contracts to supply automatic card readers in some buildings, as well as supplying security staff at the Immigration Detention Centre, for the immigration department and at the Government Administration Building.