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UAV's or Drones

Question

For the most recent 60 months held on record, please break down by calendar year:

 

  1. The total number of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, owned by the Metropolitan Police
  2. The amount of money spent on the drones, including maintenance and any other relevant costs.
  3. The number incidents reported to the Metropolitan Police that involve the use of drones. Please provide the subcategory or classification of each report, such as type of crime, if any. Please also provide any details recorded about the incident.

 

Clarification received 22nd April 2016:

Please consider this request as relating to your specific force.

 

Answer

In relation to questions 1 and 2, no information is held in respect of this request. In regard to any information relating to the covert use of UAVs, we can neither confirm nor deny that we hold any other information relevant to the request by virtue of the following exemptions:

Section 23(5) - Information supplied by, or concerning, certain security bodies

Section 24(2) - National Security

Section 31(3) - Law Enforcement

Section 23 is an absolute class-based exemption and there is no requirement to conduct a harm or public interest test.

Sections 24, and 31 are prejudice based qualified exemptions and there is a requirement to articulate the harm that would be caused in confirming or denying that any other information is held as well as carrying out a public interest test.

Overall harm for the partial NCND

As you may be aware, disclosure under FOIA is a release to the public at large. Confirming or denying that any other information is held regarding the use of this specialist equipment would show criminals what the capacity, tactical abilities and capabilities of the force are, allowing them to target specific areas of the UK to conduct their criminal/terrorist activities. Confirming or denying the specific circumstances in which the police service may or may not deploy UAVs, would lead to an increase of harm to covert investigations and compromise law enforcement. This would be to the detriment of providing an efficient policing service and a failure in providing a duty of care to all members of the public. The threat from terrorism cannot be ignored.  It is generally recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable.

It is well established that police forces use covert tactics and surveillance to gain intelligence in order to counteract criminal behaviour. It has been previously documented in the media that many terrorist incidents have been thwarted due to intelligence gained by these means.

Confirming or denying that any other information is held in relation to covert 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. This detrimental effect is increased if the request is made to several different law enforcement bodies. In addition to the local criminal fraternity now being better informed, those intent on organised crime throughout the UK will be able to ‘map’ where the use of certain tactics are or are not deployed.

Any information identifying the focus of policing activity could be used to the advantage of terrorists or criminal organisations.  Information that undermines the operational integrity of these activities will adversely affect public safety and have a negative impact on both national security and law enforcement.

Factors favouring Neither Confirming Nor Denying for Section 24

The information if held simply relates to national security and confirming or denying whether it is held would not actually harm it. The public are entitled to know what public funds are spent on and what security measures are in place, and by confirming or denying whether any other information regarding the covert use of UAVs is held, would lead to a better-informed public.

Factors against Neither Confirming Nor Denying for Section 24

By confirming or denying whether any other information is held would render Security measures less effective. This would lead to the compromise of ongoing or future operations to protect the security or infra-structure of the UK and increase the risk of harm to the public.

Factors favouring Neither Confirming Nor Denying for Section 31

Confirming or denying whether any other information is held regarding the covert use of UAVs would provide an insight into the police service. This would enable the public to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of the police and about how the police gather intelligence. It would greatly assist in the quality and accuracy of public debate, which could otherwise be steeped in rumour and speculation. Where public funds are being spent, there is a public interest in accountability and justifying the use of public money.

Some information is already in the public domain regarding the police use of this type of specialist equipment and confirming or denying whether any other information is held would ensure transparency and accountability and enable the public to see what tactics are deployed by the police service to detect crime.

 

Factors against Neither Confirming Nor Denying for Section 31

Confirming or denying that any other information is held regarding the covert use of UAVs would have the effect of compromising law enforcement tactics and would also hinder any future investigations.  In addition, confirming or denying methods used to gather intelligence for an investigation would prejudice that investigation and any possible future proceedings. 

It has been recorded that FOI releases are monitored by criminals and terrorists and so to confirm or deny any other information is held concerning specialist covert tactics would lead to law enforcement being undermined. The police service is reliant upon all manner of techniques during operations and the public release of any modus operandi employed, if held, would prejudice the ability of the police service to conduct similar investigations.

By confirming or denying whether any other information is held in relation to the covert use of UAVs would hinder the prevention or detection of crime. The police service would not wish to reveal what tactics may or may not have been used to gain intelligence as this would clearly undermine the law enforcement and investigative process. This would impact on police resources and more crime and terrorist incidents would be committed, placing individuals at risk. It can be argued that there are significant risks associated with providing information, if held, in relation to any aspect of investigations or of any nation's security arrangements so confirming or denying that any other information is held, may reveal the relative vulnerability of what we may be trying to protect.

 

Balance test

The security of the country is of paramount importance and the police service will not divulge whether any other information is or is not held regarding the covert use of UAVs if to do so would place the safety of an individual at risk, undermine national security or compromise law enforcement. 

Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations and providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat posed by various groups or individuals, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of police investigations and operations in the highly sensitive areas such as extremism, crime prevention, public disorder and terrorism prevention.

As much as there is public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced this will only be overridden in exceptional circumstances. The areas of police interest discussed above are sensitive issues that reveal local intelligence and therefore it is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for confirming or denying whether any other information is held regarding the covert use of UAVs, is not made out.

However, this should not be taken as necessarily indicating that any information that would meet your request exists or does not exist.

In relation to question 3, there are five reports relating to drones. Please find the requested details below.

 

Incident

Offence Type

Summary

1

Other Offences

Drone flown near to airfield along route for flight path

2

Crime Related Incident

Drone seen flying directly over a property at low altitude

3

Non Recordable

Drone flown over property

4

Fly small unmanned surveillance aircraft as described in 167(2) not in accordance with permission issued by CAA

Drone flown over  property

5

Anti-Social Behaviour

Drone flown over residential area

 

FOI Ref: 625/16

Date of Request: 22.04.16