Tom Witherow, Telegraph (London), September 19, 2013
A mayoral candidate has proposed the use of drones over the streets of Marseille to combat the city’s notorious network of drug dealers and reputation for violent crime.
Eugène Caselli, the Socialist Party president of the Marseille urban community, and mayoral candidate, proposed on Thursday that drone aircraft be used to seek out drug-dealing and violent crime on the backstreets of the city, which has been hit by a spate of murders.
“Once police get intelligence on gangs of drug-dealers and how they embed themselves in the city, how they move about, and how they sell drugs, that’s when it’s time to deploy the drones,” Mr Caselli said on French radio station Europe 1.
“Everything is filmed, and it’s better than a classic police stakeout,” he added.
A petition called ‘Will It Take Batman To Save Marseille?’, was launched after a vigilante pensioner was shot dead after he ran over robbers and then confronted them with a baseball bat and pepper spray. Criminal gangs are even known to use assault rifles, such as AK-47s, thought to be smuggled through Mediterranean ports.
Mr Caselli’s drone plan has the backing of police chief Jean-Paul Bonnetain, according to Europe 1, and local government authorities in the Bouches-du-Rhône department are already willing to spend €1 million (£840,000) on it, with each drone costing €50,000 a piece.
The drones would be remotely operated by pilots who need only be within 1,000 metres (3,280ft). The proposed drones are non-lethal and would be used for surveillance purposes, observing and filming movements and interactions on the street from an altitude of around 150m.
“You can deploy them in less than a minute to go and figure out a situation,” said Pascal Zunino, director of the drone manufacturer Novadem, which sells the aircraft to the French military.
“Instead of a standing camera, which is always in the same place, a drone is never in the same place. That’s what allows it to break habits and have various points of view on a situation, by day and night,” he added.
Despite these benefits, Mr Caselli’s plan will have to pass legal hurdles at a national level in France, where drones are at present only used by the military.
Among the concerns are fears that drones would risk invading the privacy of law-abiding Marseille residents.
Police officer David-Olivier Reverdy said: “Before we send in drones, let’s see exactly what the police can achieve when given proper resources to do their jobs.”
“If we have €1 million to invest in a technological solution like drones, surely we have the means to equip French police officers who are dedicated and trained to gain intelligence on criminal networks, and to break them up.”
Crime in Marseille has spiralled with the 13 gun murders in 2013 alone prompting the emergency deployment of 130 extra riot police and 24 more detectives.
[Editor’s Note: The St. Louis police chief has suggested similar measures to combat crime.]