Crime-detecting CCTV drones for Limerick mooted at policing meeting 

Fintan Walsh

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Fintan Walsh

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fintan.walsh@limerickleader.ie

Crime-detecting CCTV drones for Limerick mooted at policing meeting 

The possibility of drones being used for crime detection was discussed recently by members of the Limerick Joint Policing Committee

A NUMBER of local represent-atives have argued that if crime-spotting CCTV drones are deployed, proper regulations must be put in place. 

The idea was mooted last at a special meeting of the joint policing committee which was convened to give the green light to a pilot scheme that will see the delivery of integrated CCTV cameras across the county.

Once approved by Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, Limerick City and County Council plans to install and renew 44 ‘smart’ cameras at 15 rural locations by November 30.

During the 30-minute meeting, attended by politicians and local agencies, West End Youth Centre manager William Priestley asked if the council was considering drone CCTV cameras.

The council’s head of digital strategy Dr Mihai Bilauca said that technology “should be used as long as it is ethical and valuable. It can’t be done just because it can be done”.

“There are pros and cons to it, but it is something that we should be considering,” Mr Priestley told the Leader.

In an interview, Dr Bilauca said that he was unsure of the legal restrictions, but there are “certain principles that we need to apply.

“Cameras have to work for people. They have to work for the communities. It has to be ethical, it has to respect privacy legislation and data protection. And then they have to be effective in combating crimes.”

It is understood that this is the first time the idea had been put to the local authority.

Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins said that he does not object to the use of drones, in principle.

“And the State has to come up with a balance in terms of legislation, in terms of the usage of drones, in terms of respecting people’s privacy. Because, as we know, a drone can effectively fly into your back garden or could even fly into your kitchen and invade your privacy.

“What we were discussing today in terms of the CCTV cameras –  they are public, people know that they’re there, whereas drones can obviously be used in a covert fashion. So it is something, the detail of which, will have to be worked out.”

Deputy Collins added: “And there will have to be a strict policy and a transparent policy, in terms of the usage of drones. Drones, in my opinion, should only be used in public spaces and should not infringe or look into people’s private space.”

Metropolitan Mayor Cllr Sean Lynch, who is a retired detective garda, approves of the use of drone cameras in emergency situations.

“Wouldn’t that be fantastic for the water rescue teams who have a drone, that they could operate a drone from the boat with the aid of an iPad or a laptop? Somebody unfortunately goes in for whatever reason, you could use the services of the drone along the river, that is great technology. It is most welcome. You have the other issues, such as data and privacy, but that will be all ironed out and dealt with in due course,” he enthused.

Meanwhile, Limerick garda division is expected to deploy a new innovative pilot scheme, which allow officers to access CCTV footage, check car registrations, and make statements through a specialised app.

Supt Derek Smart told the Limerick Leader that Chief Supt David Sheahan is championing the project, which is now “at a very advanced stage”.

CCTV access will also be installed into vehicles, which will allow gardaí to improve the monitoring of criminal incidents.

Deputy Collins described this move as “progressive” for the local gardaí.

Supt Smart added: “The biggest thing is that you can’t replace the man on the ground. That is the biggest asset that we have. Having the CCTV in the background will be something that will ease and aid the investigation going forward, in any serious crime or minor crime.”

Senator Kieran O’Donnell urged the joint policing committee to write to the Garda Commissioner to send more gardaí to Limerick after the next passing out ceremony this September.

The Henry Street superintendent said that the Limerick division did not receive new gardaí in the last two groups, and that Chief Supt Sheahan is “very active” in trying to gain new recruits.

The 44 new cameras in County Limerick will act as phase one of the new pilot scheme. At the end of the scheme, it is expected that 300 cameras will be installed, each monitored from a central hub in Moyross.

Dr Bilauca said that there is potential for installing up to 500 cameras, provided suitable funding is made available.

Mayor of Limerick City and County, Cllr Stephen Keary said that he was disappointed that the scheme was not delivered in early 2017. He and Cllr Kevin Sheahan urged the council prioritise Askeaton and Rathkeale in the new scheme.

The towns and communities benefiting from the new programme include Newcastle West, Rathkeale, Askeaton, Castleconnell, Abbeyfeale, Kilmallock, Adare, Pallasgreen, Caherconlish, Croom, Foynes, Murroe, Patrickswell and Cappamore.

The delivery of the scheme will cost €500,000.