The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has used drones to observe riots, manage crime scenes and conduct search and rescue missions, the Sentinel can reveal.
The police have nine drones and twelve members of the force’s staff are trained to operate them.
According to information released by the PSNI in response to a Freedom of Information request Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAvs) crash landed twice during training but there was no cost to the public purse as the flying cameras were still covered under warranty.
The PSNI stated: “During training the PSNI had two hard landing causing damage to aircraft.
“There were no costs involved to the PSNI and repairs were carried out under the manufacturer’s warranty.”
The nine drones used by the PSNI are operated in line with current Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations.
Asked what the machines were used for the PSNI stated: “UAVs have been used for scene management, search and rescue and public order support.”
The PSNI said it has never used UAVs in a trial context and that the systems were instead demonstrated by manufacturers on a number of occasions.
It refused to release details on how many times drones have been used in an operational context on the grounds that to do so could potentially interfere with its law enforcement mission.
The PSNI would neither confirm or deny whether it held any other information relevant to the covert use of UAVs by virtue of the various exemptions afforded by the FOI legislation.
“Confirming or denying that any other information is held on the covert use of UAVs would limit operational capabilities as criminals/terrorists would gain a greater understanding of the police’s methods and techniques, enabling them to take steps to counter them.
“It may also suggest the limitations of police capabilities in this area, which may further encourage criminal/terrorist activity by exposing potential vulnerabilities,” the force stated.
It also refused to say how much it has spent on the purchase and maintenance of drones to date.
In a statement released in response to a FOI request it explained: “While there is a strong public interest in how public money is being spent and how the PSNI is dealing with its law enforcement role the PSNI has a duty to deliver effective law enforcement.
“Criminal elements could use this information to evade police, directly undermining their law enforcement role.”