In 2015, when the Swedish Police Authority was established as the central governing body for the police in Sweden, marking a significant shift from decades of local government-controlled divisional forces, the country started exploring the use of drones for public safety operations.
In a pilot study, which lasted until 2017, Sweden not only researched the possible applications of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in public safety operations, but it also dug deep into the best practices, policies, and procedures to assess if the use of the drones would meet the requirements of Swedish law.
The country officially kicked off its police drone program in 2018 with the appointment of former helicopter pilot Rickard Henningsson as Process Manager Airborne Policing-UAS at the Swedish Police Authority. Each branch within the police was given the opportunity to enter the qualification program and get requisite training to start using drones in the line of duty.
At the beginning of the project, there were only a few trained drone operators. Today, there are more than 200 officers across Sweden, who have earned the licenses and certifications required to operate drones during law enforcement activities. This has allowed the Swedish Police Authority to equip each police unit within the program with a drone, in addition to providing several UAS to forensic teams for their investigations.
For which operations does the Swedish police use drones?
The Swedish police uses its drones to take pictures and video footage of a crime scene or accident site has helped the police department to reduce the risk of evidence contamination. Police drones also assist fire services in hazmat response and aerial reconnaissance during incidents such as fires, oil spills, and natural disasters.
Moreover, Sweden has used drones to ensure safety and crowd control at large public events such as football matches, election rallies, and demonstrations. The technology has also provided great value during search and rescue operations if someone goes missing in the mountains or at the sea.
In Malmö, the third-largest city in Sweden, drones are routinely flown in public spaces of troubled suburbs where incidents of drug trafficking and gang-related crimes escalated in 2019. Complementing foot patrols and other safety measures taken by the police, these drones have helped to prevent or detect crime. Since officers make it a point to respect the privacy of citizens, police are entitled to use the aerial footage in investigation and prosecution. When presented as evidence in trials, aerial images and videos often prove to be a decisive factor in cases that have no witnesses.
Why does Sweden use drones instead of helicopters? What kind of drones does the Swedish police use?
A lack of helicopters was a major factor behind the rapid scaling of the Airborne Policing program. The Swedish Police Authority has 9 helicopters in its kitty, with each hour of flight costing the department 3,000€. In contrast, a compact, agile, and quickly deployable drone (such as the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise series) decreases the cost of airborne monitoring by 200 percent – thereby serving as an efficient and cost-effective alternative to helicopters, especially in small-scale missions. Furthermore, drones do not attract attention the way a helicopter does.
Not only did Swedish Police Authority realize early on that drones could supplement their helicopter program in multiple operations, but the department also understood that, for maximum efficiency, it needed different drones and payloads to serve different applications.
For large-scale crowd control, the Swedish police prefer to leverage the remarkably powerful visual sensors of the Matrice 210 V2. The drone allows officers to quickly map large areas in 2D and generate actionable insights. Further, the M210 V2’s thermal and zoom cameras have come in handy during manhunts for criminals on the run. First responders, meanwhile, trust the M210 V2 to find lost persons during rescue missions. Last year alone, the Swedish Police Authority has used drones in more than 150 rescue missions.
In forensic work, where the police detects the criminal, the Mavic 2 Pro is the best option.
The drone comes equipped with Swedish Hasselblad camera technology, which is renowned for its outstanding image quality in both high- and low-light environments. The police department has also procured the small yet powerful Mavic Mini for use in indoor operations, but the bulk of the inventory for motorcycle and boat units consists of the Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic 2 Enterprise, and Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual.
Sweden’s Airborne Policing unit is on a mission to ensure that no operation is compromised because of a lack of availability of drones. However, each drone flight needs to be authorized by a high-ranking official. The authorization process works in tandem with the police units rushing to the scene. Once the unit receives the permission for the use of drones, the operator goes through a pre-flight checklist and follows the appropriate procedure. It is also mandatory for the responding unit to provide the police department with a detailed report of every drone flight it undertakes.
This authorization and operation process ensures that public safety drone operations are not only more efficient but also safer.