Israel expands use of drones to fight against environmental offenders

The drones' cameras capture in high-resolution the faces of environmental criminals and license plates of their vehicles.

Tel Aviv: Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection is expanding the use of drones in an effort to fight more effectively against environmental offenders.

The cameras on drones make capturing environmental offenses in real-time much easier as the video footage in high resolution of wrongdoings can serve as substantial evidence in court, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

Moreover, the Ministry’s Green Police even has drones with specialised cameras able to record videos at night using infrared or thermal vision.

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For each operation, Green Police drone operators adjust the machines for specific conditions. For example, sea missions require drones that can fly in high winds, while in open fields, quiet drones with a long-distance lens can do a better job.

As the main enforcement and deterrence arm of the ministry, the Green Police has the power to conduct investigations, hand out fines and sanctions, and monitor polluters such as vehicles.

Eyal Yaffe, chief of the unmanned aerial vehicle department at Green Police, said that currently “most Green Police cases have drone footage that is very helpful in the court, by making the cases unambiguous”.

Green Police inspectors are monitoring and enforcing environmental laws, regulations, and decrees with a focus on illegal dumping, sewage, air quality, hazardous materials, and construction waste.

Several times a month, the environmental ministry sends press releases about catching another illegal dumper. Usually, it is a general contractor that prefers to save money by skipping the cost of a legal landfill.

In one of the recent operations in mid-July, Yaffe and his team worked undercover for about a month next to the farmland where criminals were dumping construction waste illegally.

Yaniv Green, a senior inspector of Green Police, said that criminals were collecting waste from different construction sites during the daytime and then driving to an unauthorised landfill in agricultural lands without permission or any appropriate infrastructure.

Trucks full of construction waste were dumping their loads during nights in complete darkness to avoid any possible surveillance, but what they did not take into account were the drones with night-vision video cameras.

Nir Shorashi, an inspector of Green Police, told Xinhua that “criminals are not aware of our work with drones” because they are invisible and quiet, hence the chance of being noticed is slim.

The drones’ cameras capture in high-resolution the faces of environmental criminals and license plates of their vehicles. “Drones can go as far as 500 meters without being detected”, said Yaffe.

The environmental criminals that were entering the fenced illegal landfill site next to the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion while driving without lights were documented meticulously from the air.

After gathering all the needed evidence, police forces ambushed the illegal site and arrested the offenders.

“Drones are a game-changer. Previously we needed to sneak inside those kinds of places and risk our lives. Today we can sit kilometres away from the crime scene and produce incriminating evidence just with drones,” stressed Shorashi.

“In the past, we needed to hide on the ground or find vantage points on hills and use cameras, night vision, or even binoculars,” said Green.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection stated that it was the first ministry in Israel to set up a drone unit, and its name is Squadron 11.

“We started with the first footage operation in 2017,” noted Yaffe.

In 2020, Squadron 11 dealt with some 700 incidents in all parts of the country, gathering intelligence, overseeing the removal of asbestos roofs, and identifying illegal operations and other environmental hazards in various areas, the Ministry stated.

The groundbreaking ability of drones is to fly above dangerous places and provide a crucial real-time picture of what is going on and enable the Green Police to enforce law anywhere and anytime.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, and we say now also, a drone is worth a thousand supervisors,” Yaffe told Xinhua.

Currently, Green Police has about 10 drones in its possession.

“We intend to purchase about 35 additional drones with different equipment including hyperspectral and multispectral cameras to detect, shoot and monitor soil, water, and air pollution,” Yaffe noted.

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