Use of Drones (Ref: 68/16)
Could you please disclose a list of all the incidents police have investigated using ‘drones’ in the past two years.
Could you please disclose:
* The nature of the incident including a description of what was recorded on the incident log
* The location (city, town etc)
* The date
* The outcome (arrest, NFA, charges etc)
We have searched our incident database for instances where a drone has been used. Please see the attached file. However, while the majority of the information is attached to this email I am not required by statute to release all of the information requested. One incident has been removed from the file. This letter serves as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) for details of this incident.
REASONS FOR DECISION
The Freedom of Information Act places two responsibilities on public authorities, the first of which is to confirm what information it holds and secondly to then disclose that information, unless exemptions apply.
In this case, this letter represents a Refusal Notice for the details of one incident which are exempt by virtue of the following exemptions
Section 30 (1) (a) (b) (Investigations)
These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:
In line with the above, I am required to complete a Prejudice Test/Public Interest Test (PIT) on disclosure. Please find this PIT below.
In this case to provide details of an investigation would allow anyone involved – including the offenders – to ascertain the level of police knowledge of the incident.
Release of information through the Freedom of Information Act removes any of the legal strictures and assumptions of confidentiality associated with the due legal process. As a consequence any on-going or subsequent court proceedings could be jeopardised where release of information regarding an individual was identified.
Considerations that favour confirming or denying
Disclosing information about investigations would provide a greater transparency in the investigating process and the actions of a public authority. It is clear that there is a public interest in public authorities operating in as transparent a manner as possible, as this should ensure they operate effectively and efficiently.
Considerations against confirming or denying
Where current or future law enforcement role of the force may be compromised by the release of information, then this is unlikely to be in the interest of the public. In this case, for the reasons outlined above, confirming or denying the existence of an investigation could jeopardise future police operations and compromise the future prevention and detection of crime.
Efficient and Effective Conduct of the Service
There is an inherently strong public interest in public authorities carrying out investigations to prevent and detect crime. This ensures that offenders are brought to justice and that the necessary checks and balances are in place to safeguard public funds and resources. To allow the effectiveness of investigations to be reduced, as described in the harm above, is not in the public interest. West Midlands Police need to be allowed to carry out investigations effectively away from public scrutiny until such times as the details need to be made public, otherwise it will be difficult for accurate, thorough and objective investigations to be carried out.
It would not be in the public interest to confirm or deny the existence or otherwise of information that may be of assistance to offenders/prevent an individual from being brought to justice. The right to a fair trial is of paramount importance and any disclosure which could enhance media attention prior to any proceedings could compromise an individual’s right to a fair trial under the Human Rights Act.
For a public interest test, issues that favour release need to be measured against issues that favour non-disclosure. The public interest is not what interests the public, or a particular individual, but what will be the greater good, if released, to the community as a whole.
The issue of transparency is noted. However, on balance it is considered that the public interest in providing the information is outweighed by the potential impact release would have on future law enforcement activities.
Although providing the information might provide a greater transparency in the investigating process, there are already a number of checks and balances on authorities to assess whether investigations are conducted appropriately. There are legal processes in place to ensure that all parties are given access to all the appropriate information at the time of any trial and subsequently through court records. In addition if a person feels that they have been treated inappropriately by the police there are clear processes in place to ensure that matters are investigated thoroughly and appropriately.
Releasing information outside of such a schedule could undermine the smooth running of these processes and would impact on future judicial proceedings. Therefore the wider public interest lies in protecting the ability of the public authority to conduct an effective investigation and consider the outcome.
Having considered the arguments for and against, the public interest test favours withholding some of the requested information. West Midlands Police will not disclose information that could reveal personal information or could compromise the future law enforcement role of the force.