Tue | Apr 7, 2020

Drone spies - Criminals using surveillance to track police, rivals, intelligence shows

Published:Sunday | September 15, 2019 | 12:33 AMCorey Robinson - Staff Reporter
McArthur Sutherland, acting assistant commissioner.
Superintendent Howard Chambers.

Gang members are reportedly using drones to monitor the movement of their rivals and law enforcement, determined that the enhanced security measures across the island will not impede their criminal intent.

Sunday Gleaner sources within the Jamaica Constabulary Force disclosed that the revelation was made in a comprehensive investigation carried out by the National Intelligence Bureau last year.

The details of the research were recently revealed.

The study examined the effectiveness of numerous zones of special operations (ZOSO) and limited states of emergency (SOEs) implemented in several police divisions last year – when the island recorded more than 1,287 murders.

The report noted that gangsters in sections of West Kingston, where a ZOSO has been under way since October 2017, have been finding ways to elude the security forces.

“With globalisation and the increase in technology, gangs have become more sophisticated in monitoring police activities as well as their rivals, by utilising drones,” read the report, which was completed earlier this year.

“This gives these gangs an advantage in accessing the whereabouts of rivals to launch attacks, as well as create a safe passage during police operations. Drones were being used by members of the Tivoli/Young Generation [Gang] in the limited state of public emergency to monitor the movement of the security forces.”

It continued, “Additionally, [they were used by] criminal gangs in the Flanker and Farm/Effortville communities in the St James and Clarendon divisions, respectively.”

The report identified increased technology, familiarity of terrain, local and international funding, and the stewardship of gangs by incarcerated leaders, among the major threats to gang-control efforts locally.


While extending the Denham Town ZOSO for a further 60 days, national security minister Dr Horace Chang in July described Denham Town and Mount Salem ZOSOs as breakthrough initiatives in Jamaica’s history, sentiments shared by Police Commissioner Antony Anderson at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum in July.

However, this did not prevent the killing of at least 23 persons in the West Kingston community, which were directly tied to the ongoing Tivoli/Young Generation and Denham Town gang rivalries plaguing that space last year.

Meanwhile, the Government earlier this month declared an SOE in Clarendon, where the police said 133 murders were recorded in 2018, and more than 100 since the start of the year. Clarendon, however, according to the report, suffered from a slew of first- and second-generation gangs that were mainly engaged in praedial larceny.

Head of the Police Criminal Investigation Branch, Acting Assistant Commissioner McArthur Sutherland, told The Sunday Gleaner that he was personally unaware of information about drone usage by criminal gangs.

“I’ve not heard of it, but it is a point worth exploring by me if that is really happening. It would mean that the criminals are using counter-surveillance strategy to counter our efforts,” said Sutherland, noting that such activities also call for more stringent enforcements surrounding the purchase and use of drones on the island.

“Not only are they trying to use it to flee but they are trying to ensure that they know what the police are doing, which is really bad.”

While praising a more than 30 per cent murder reduction in the Kingston Western Division, Superintendent Howard Chambers said, “We heard about the drone usage when the ZOSO just started. We checked it out and found nothing like that. So it is still unconfirmed.”

Chambers said he hopes the current lull in gang activities in the division will continue for an additional three months.


On Amazon.com, drones equipped with top and bottom wide-angle cameras can be purchased from US$60 to upwards of US$399, dependent on the features. Some are waterproof, while others can reach speeds of upwards of 50 miles per hour.

Drones are generally equipped with software that has a built-in GPS system, which picks up no-fly zones and prevents the device from flying in those areas. However, persons can disable the GPS system, allowing the drone to operate in any space.

There are several no-fly zones across Jamaica, the main ones being airports and headquarters/offices of the security forces.

According to the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA), only persons wishing to use drones commercially need a permit, in each instance, to operate them in Jamaica. No permits are required for personal and recreational usage, it noted.

Additionally, persons seeking to use drones in areas deemed ZOSO or those which are in SOE must undergo a series of probes, which are done in tandem with the police and the Ministry of National Security.

Since the start of the year, the JCAA has received more than 90 requests for permits from persons hoping to operate drones commercially.



Unmanned aerial vehicles shall not be operated:

• At a height exceeding 400ft (122m) above ground level.

• Within or over restricted and prohibited airspace.

• With the intention of dropping or discharging any items to the ground.

• Beyond a maximum of 1,640ft (500m).

• Over private or public property or dwelling without prior permission.

• At a distance beyond unaided visual range of the operator(s) of aircraft.

• Using first-person view (FPV) or computer-aided visual of the UAV.

• Over or within the 500ft (152m) of an organised open-air assembly of people.

• Over or within 500ft (50m) of any person. However, during take-off and landing, the aircraft may be flown within 165ft (50m) but no less than 100ft (30m) of any person. These stipulations do not apply to the person in control of the aircraft.

• Within 16,500ft (5,000m) of any aerodrome or rotorcraft designated landing zones such as helipads.