How the Singapore Police Force rescued a lost hiker with drones

By Rachel Teng

Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, have greatly aided the Force in rescue operations, crowd control, and law enforcement over the years.

SPF’s drones have thermal imaging, GPS, and obstacle avoidance capabilities. Image: Singapore Police Force.

In March 2021, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) deployed drones in an operation to search for a lost hiker in Clementi Forest. Owing to the aerial view, SPF’s drone pilots were able to locate the lost hiker even before the rescue team had arrived at the scene. They then managed to guide him out of the dense vegetation swiftly.
 

 Drone footage of lost hiker being led out to safety by SPF officers. Image: Singapore Police Force.
 

These little flying heroes, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are one of the newest additions to the Singapore Police Force’s troopers, equipped with the perfect technologies for four main functions: search and rescue, enforcement, police presence, and area observation.
 

“Drones are our eyes in the sky. It helps our police officers have a better understanding of the terrain and enables them to… plan resources accordingly,” said Station Inspector Jason, an SPF Drone Pilot at the Clementi Police Division in a video by SPF.
 

GovInsider finds out from SPF the many ways in which UAVs have helped enhance policemen’s work.

A bird’s eye view

 

SPF started exploring the use of drones in 2014, and officially deployed drones for operations from 2019 to better combat crime and effectively deal with security threats, an SPF spokesperson told GovInsider.
 

What exactly makes these drones such effective supplements to police work?
 

“Drones value-add by providing an aerial situational picture over terrain that may be inaccessible to ground officers, which enhances our sense-making capabilities during major incidents and day-to-day operations,” says the SPF spokesperson.
 

“They enable officers to collect information and obtain real-time situational awareness in a quicker and safer way than before.”
 

These drones have since been deployed to control crowds during major national events such as new year countdowns and the National Day Parade, helping the police quickly identify choke points and dispatch officers to manage crowds more effectively,” the spokesperson adds.
 

More importantly, drones have been in use for police investigation and law enforcement work. These include bomb sweeps, boat checks, and locating those evading the law.
 

Since 2017, the SPF has been using drone technology to assist in their ground operations such as raids and other enforcement actions. Most recently, a drone with thermal imaging capabilities was deployed during a five-day enforcement operation led by the SPF and supported by the Central Narcotics Bureau, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, Singapore Civil Defence Force and Singapore Customs, according to the SPF website.
 

Using drones with thermal imaging capabilities, the police located illegal immigrants who possessed a large number of contraband cigarettes along the Bukit Timah Expressway. Image: Singapore Police Force.
 

A pocketful of policing

 

The fleet of UAVs currently in use by the police boasts many features.
 

First, these drones have blue and red police blinkers that establish police presence when they are used for public-facing operations such as crowd control. Along with this, they also possess an attached speaker to play police sirens or broadcast announcements for public safety.
 

Next, the drones have thermal and visual cameras that help police track human movement and pick out anomalies. The thermal-imaging camera can be adjusted to detect a range of temperatures, depending on the terrain and situation. It can be precise up to the degree Celsius, wherein only warm-blooded humans, animals, or objects of a specific temperature will appear as red silhouettes on the screen.
 

 The drones also have GPS functions and obstacle-avoidance capabilities. Image: Singapore Police Force.
 

The fleet and force as one

 

SPF cannot modernise its technologies without modernising its force.
 

The Aerial Response Team trains existing policemen to become drone pilots. Upon graduation from the training, these drone pilots can either be deployed as uniformed officers or civilian staff, ready to respond to any drone operations when called upon.
 

“It is fairly difficult to fly a drone, and it takes a lot of determination and training to fly the drone and attain a drone pilot license. We have to factor in different wind conditions and that is challenging,” said Station Officer Jason.
 

Moving forward, SPF seeks to press ahead with its efforts to harness technology for more effective policing – be it in the deployment of drones, robotic systems, or police cameras, says the SPF spokesperson.
 

But beyond technology, the spokesperson says that the Force is also looking forward to deepening its partnership with the community in deterring crime together. SPF does not keep any data obtained from the UAVs except for investigation and operational purposes.
 

“The community has been an important partner of the Police in keeping Singapore safe. 20-30% of arrests for major crimes are made with the assistance of the public today,” the spokesperson says. “The trust and support of the public is something which we do not take for granted, and we want to work even more closely with the community going forward.”