Police Force of Kingston Ontario, Using Drones to Help Locate Missing People and More

On December 20, 1841, the Common Council of Kingston, Ontario established the Police Force of Kingston (PFK) under the guiding principle of “the preservation of good order and the public morals therein.” As one of the oldest Canadian police services, PFK strives to live up to its founding member’s hopes for the community. But as Chief of Police Antje McNeely says, “That purpose is still expected, but policing has never been as complex as it is now, and it will continue to grow in complexity in the future.” In order to meet the current demands of what it means to be a successful police force, PFK began using drones to service the city of Kingston.

A few years ago, PFK purchased its first drone, an Aeryon SkyRanger built by Aeryon Labs in Waterloo, Ontario. The SkyRanger weighs less than 10lbs, and can support an additional payload of 1.5lbs. This payload could include specialized sensors and cameras. The SkyRanger has a 50 minute flight time over a range of 6.21 miles and can withstand winds up to 40mph. And as explained on PFK’s website, “Our Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) was selected due to its multirole capabilities for police operations. Not only does it assist in a more effective and efficient response to certain incidents, it also provides an investigative platform that would otherwise require the use of standard aircraft from outside agencies.”

PFK primarily uses the drone to investigate traffic incidents. The drone is sent up to collect images of an accident so crews can quickly clean up roads so regular traffic can resume. The images collected by the drone can later be used to reconstruct the accident for further investigation. Realizing just how beneficial the SkyRanger has been for the force, PFK recently added a new drone to their artillery, a DJI Matrice 300.

Weighing a little under 14lbs with a maximum payload capacity of 5.9lbs, the DJI Matrice 300 has been rated as one of the best commercial drones on the market. With a 55 minute flight time and approximately 10 mile range, the variety of sensors the drone can support make it extremely versatile. On Sunday, September 12, 2021, PFK had the opportunity to try out its newest drone.

Late that evening, police received a call that an 80 year old man had gone missing. Witnesses believe they saw the man wandering near an abandoned tannery south of Bell Park. In the heavily wooded area, canvassing patrols were unsuccessful in locating the man. At around 7 PM police were able to ping the man’s cell phone to get a general idea of where he was. However, the dense foliage and darkening sky made finding him near impossible. So the drone unit was called in to assist. Within minutes of sending up the Matrice 300, with a night vision camera, the man was located. The drone pilot guided police to where the man was stuck in some brush, and by 10 PM, he was safely in police custody. Paramedics gave him medical clearance and he was returned to his family.

“We live in a beautiful region, with a lot of dirt roads and wild spaces to explore. But in these areas civic addresses can be difficult to find and directions can be challenging to give,” says Kim Smith, the Supervisor for Kingston’s Fire and Rescue department. “In an emergency, when a caller is distressed and not sure about location, every second counts.” For this reason, in conjunction with drone technology, Kingston has encouraged citizens to register vulnerable people in a city database and download the free app, What3Words. This app works even in wifi denied environments to assign 3 unique words to every 3m x 3m square on earth, creating an easily identifiable grid. By using emerging technology, PFK is upholding the mission put forth by its founders 180 years ago while meeting the needs of people today.

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