Police drones to zoom in on northern Qld

Nick Gibbs |

High-tech police drones will be deployed in Cairns and Townsville as part of a new 12-month trial, but a “line-of-sight” rule will limit their capability for situations like car chases.

Equipped with tracking and thermal imaging cameras, the drones will be useful in disaster response, siege situations and to help find lost people, remote pilot Sergeant Mark Gamer says.

While they have a range of about five kilometres, pilots are only permitted to fly them to visual line of sight – meaning they must be visible at all times.

“Even though the drone can only be used within visual line of sight, the zoom beyond that is quite incredible,” Sgt Gamer said on Monday.

“We don’t use drones for car chases, drones are used for static type jobs like sieges … (and) intelligence operations.”

With lesser-populated regional areas and restricted airspace near the RAAF base in Townsville, resources for dedicated police helicopters “are better invested in other technologies”, the state government says.

A helicopter in Townsville has previously “shut down the entire area for a considerable period of time”, Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll says.

“We can’t afford to keep doing that, it’s not effective using (helicopters) in that type of environment,” she said.

The trial comes as the state announces three new Bell 429 helicopters that will replace two existing police aircraft to patrol the southeast from 2024.

“These are the eyes in the sky that will help protect Queenslanders through to the Olympics in 2032 and beyond,” Treasurer Cameron Dick said on Monday.

The new helicopters are part of a new long-term contract with Surf Life Saving Queensland to operate police aerial capabilities through to 2034, Police Minister Mark Ryan said.