Apparently drones have a similarity to guns: In the hands of a crook, they are a threat. When law enforcement officers utilize them, they are a significant tool.

That’s according to a report from the international police agency INTERPOL, which looked at drone technology at its recent Global Complex for Innovation conference in Singapore.

Nearly 100 experts from law enforcement, academia and private industry assembled to demonstrate for officers how drones “can at the same time be a threat, particularly for critical infrastructure, a tool, and source of evidence for police worldwide.”

“The impact of drones on law enforcement activities around the world continues to increase,” said Steve Watson of VTO Labs. “Daily, I hear of new agencies considering how to use them in law enforcement activities; weekly, I hear of agencies receiving them in connection with active investigations; and it seems that every month a new twist on the drone threat emerges.”

Militaries have used drones for some time. The U.S. has several versions it has used in its fight against terrorism in the Middle East and other places.

Consumers have played with them for years, and industry use is exploding. Utilities use them to monitor power lines or pipelines, realtors use them to film properties, and there are countless other uses.

The conference was set up by the FBI, the Netherlands police and others to address “unmanned aerial systems.”

One of INTERPOL’s most significant efforts will continue to be the exchange of information about threats and solutions.

“The INTERPOL Drone Expert Forum has assembled a world-class group of experts and practitioners on the topic of drones and their intersection with law enforcement activities. INTERPOL continues to find ways to exercise leadership and inspiration on new technology topics,” Watson said.

The international law enforcement organization explained the significance of the threat component.

“The potential use of drones in a terrorist incident or attack against a critical infrastructure and soft targets is a growing concern for law enforcement as the availability of drone technology becomes more widespread globally. As drones become less expensive and their potential applications continue to expand, it is expected that countries will witness an increase and evolution of this threat,” the organization said.

Already terrorists are using drones in surveillance and to deliver “chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive materials in conflict zones.”

One incident developed when a radical environmental group “repurposed a hobby drone to enter the secure airspace of a nuclear site and crash into a building.”

“The rising threat of terrorist groups using drones to attack critical infrastructure and soft targets has created a pressing need for the global law enforcement community to exchange information and share best practices. INTERPOL is committed to assisting its member countries protect their critical infrastructure by raising awareness, sharing best practices and facilitating information exchange on terrorist incidents involving drones,” said INTERPOL’s director of counter-terrorism, Patrick Stevens.

But police also use the devices.

Conference participants heard discussions on how drones can be used to reconstruct a crime scene by providing images from all angles, including overhead shots.

“Drones can also be used by law enforcement to conduct surveillance, assist with traffic accident investigations, survey natural disaster sites and more,” INTERPOL said.

The agency also pointed out drones can also be a significant source of evidence to support investigations and prosecutions.

“Different countries view drone technology in different ways: some define drones as a weapon, while others categorize them similarly to airplanes. On top of that, police are starting to use drones as a tool in their daily operational work,” said Anita Hazenberg, a spokeswoman for the international group.

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