North Rhine-Westphalia is a nationwide pioneer in aerial surveillance
The police in North Rhine-Westphalia want to qualify hundreds more officers as drone pilots. In January, the State Office for Training, Further Education and Personnel Affairs is advertising two more positions for full-time trainers for this purpose. Currently, there are about 200 police “remote pilots” for drones in the most populous federal state. A team always consists of the pilot and an “airspace observer”.
North Rhine-Westphalia is a nationwide pioneer in the use of drones by the police. Although they started procuring the small vertical take-off aircraft late compared to other federal states, numerous directorates are now equipped with them. To this end, the technology department had tested the drones as part of a pilot project together with the State Criminal Police Office and ten district police authorities. This two-year project ended last autumn.
The focus is on the preservation of evidence or the recording of traffic accidents. Many drones are therefore delivered to the forensic investigation units and the crime scene survey group of the State Office of Criminal Investigation. A police image video also mentions traffic monitoring or operations for the water police as intended uses. The riot police were also to receive 76 drones in a large-scale project. According to the Minister of the Interior, Herbert Reul (Christian Democratic Union, CDU), these drones could be used for the “pursuit of criminals”.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, the police is flying so-called quadro- or multicopters made by the Chinese manufacturer DJI. The company is the market leader for leisure drones, but also for flying robots used by the authorities for interception. For “blue-light organisations”, they receive a so-called “BOS software update”, the German acronym standing for “Behörden und Organisationen mit Sicherheitsaufgaben” (authorities and organisations with security tasks). As part of the update, the recorded data streams are encrypted, among other things. With this equipment, some of the drones cost over €15,000.
According to the police, the training now being sought for even more drone pilots consists of a theoretical and a practical part. It takes place in a “ghost town” on the former NATO site in Mönchengladbach. For special missions, training can also be held inside buildings.
In other federal states, too, more and more police authorities are using quadro- or multicopters, as in North Rhine-Westphalia mainly for securing crime scenes after a violent crime or in traffic accidents. Surveillance of political gatherings also occurs, but these missions are still rare. Saxony first acquired drones 12 years ago and flew them at football matches and demonstrations. In Lower Saxony, a quadrocopter was allegedly once spotted by protestors during a nuclear waste transport. In Freiburg, a special task force brought quadrocopters to evict houses. However, the police drone flights are increasingly used to observe football fans, complains Oliver Wiebe from the umbrella organisation of fan support and calls for a “disarmament” in December.
Thomas Feltes, a criminologist from Bochum, told the German public broadcaster WDR that the police often “do not comply” with regulations on the use of drones. Like other police cameras, drones are only allowed to film demonstrations if concrete crimes are expected or have already taken place. The participants must also be informed about the use of drones.
Drones were also used during the first Corona lockdown in spring 2020. The police in Hesse and Bavaria launched the small flying robots to monitor violations of Corona regulations in parks, and they were also used for this purpose on Rügen. In North Rhine-Westphalia, police drones also flew over green spaces with loudspeakers to educate the public.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Police NRW.