24 November 2023
[FYI request #24633 email]
Request for information
Thank you for your Official Information Act 1982 request dated 2 November 2023. Your
questions are listed below, followed by an answer for each.
I request the following information to be provided through a formal response
regarding the recent drone/RPAS training exercise conducted by the New
Zealand Police for identifying cannabis crops, as reported in the media.
1. Training Exercise Details:
1a. Please provide the date, location, and specific objectives of the training
exercise or exercises.
The exercise happened at a South Island farm on 23 August 2023.
The exercise consisted of two phases. The specific objective of Phase 1 was to assess if
the multispectral camera can detect indoor cannabis plants. The specific objective of
Phase 2 was to obtain a sample of baseline multispectral images of the soil and general
plants where the cannabis plants will be planted in the coming months.
1b. Were there any other agencies or organisations involved in this exercise?
1c. Is the project currently in the testing phase, and if so, what are the specific
objectives and expected outcomes of this phase?
Yes, the project is currently in the testing phase. The objectives and expected outcomes
are as described in response to part 1a of your request.
Police National Headquarters
180 Molesworth Street. PO Box 3017, Wellington 6140, New Zealand.
Telephone: 04 474 9499. Fax: 04 498 7400. www.police.govt.nz
2. Equipment and Technology:
2a. Could you provide details on the make, model, and technical specifications of
the drones and camera systems used?
DJI Mavic 3 Multispectral. The technical specifications and capabilities of this device are
publicly available online1.
2b. What artificial intelligence software was utilised, and what are its capabilities
in terms of object recognition, tracking, and obstacle avoidance?
See response to part 6b of your request.
3. Authority & Permission:
3a. Please confirm whether all necessary permissions were obtained from the
Civil Aviation Authority for conducting this exercise.
Police operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in accordance with Civil
3b. Was a flight plan submitted for conducting this exercise
3c. Were there any specific safety measures or risk assessments conducted to
ensure safe operation of the drones?
3d. Did the "South Island cannabis farm" provide explicit consent for the use of
their premises and crops for the drone training exercise? If so, how was this
consent obtained and documented?
Yes, by email.
3e. What is the legal justification for using drones in this manner, and how does
the New Zealand Police ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations?
Police operate RPAS in accordance with its Part 102 Unmanned Aircraft Operations
In some instances, where privileges are provided to Police under Part 102, Police must
ensure any additional legislative requirements are met, for example, additional
requirements under the Search and Surveillance Act 2012.
3f. What policies or guidelines does the New Zealand Police have in place
regarding the use of AI-equipped drones for cannabis detection or any other
Police has an RPAS Policy, and an RPAS Operations Manual. These documents guide
all Police use of RPAS.
4. Cost and Funding:
4a. What was the total cost of conducting this drone training exercise?
4b. Could you provide a breakdown of the costs involved.
The total cost is $673.72 which was spent on staff travel to attend this training exercise.
This consisted of $163 for accommodation, $319.62 for flights, and $191.10 for travel
4c. What was the source of funding for these operations?
Police’s Aviation, Maritime & Border Group.
4d. How does the New Zealand Police justify the expenditure of taxpayer dollars
on AI drones for cannabis detection, especially in the context of other pressing
public safety issues?
The Ombudsman’s guidelines state: “If a requester seeks information by asking a
question, there is a distinction between: questions which can be answered by providing
information already known to and held by the agency (official information); and questions
which require the agency to form an opinion or provide an explanation and so create new
information to answer the request (not official information).” As this question asks Police
to form an opinion, it is not considered official information.
4e. Has a cost-benefit analysis been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness and
efficiency of using AI drones for cannabis detection compared to other law
No, Police is currently scoping the benefits of the technology and once this has been
assessed, a cost-benefit analysis will be conducted.
4f. What other law enforcement priorities might have been addressed with the
resources allocated to this project, and how was the decision made to prioritise
4g. How does the New Zealand Police respond to the perception that this
initiative is a waste of resources and a misallocation of law enforcement
See response to part 4d of your request.
5. Plans and Policies:
5a. What are the plans for rolling out this initiative more broadly?
There are currently no such plans, therefore, this part of your request is refused under
section 18(e) of the OIA as the information requested does not exist.
5c. Which police districts will be using these AI-equipped drones, and why were
these particular districts chosen?
All Police Districts have RPAS, which contain some form of AI, such as obstacle
5d. Will these drones operate autonomously, and if so, what protocols will be
place to ensure safe and responsible operation?
Only some RPAS have autonomous flight capability. These flights are required to be
within visual line of sight (VLOS) or extended visual line of sight (EVLOS) to ensure air
and ground risks are mitigated.
5e. How often will these drones be used, and will they cover all areas of bushland
As no specific plans are currently in place, this part of your request is also refused under
section 18(e) of the OIA as the information requested does not exist.
5f. Has the technology been deployed elsewhere?
Yes, the Mavic Multispectral RPAS has been used on two operations looking for missing
6. Impact and Evaluation:
6a. Were there any results or findings from this training exercise that could be
Disclosing this information would be likely to prejudice the maintenance of the law,
including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences and is therefore withheld
under section 6(c) of the OIA.
6b. How is the New Zealand Police evaluating the effectiveness of using AI-
equipped drones for such purposes?
Other than the exercise discussed in this response, no other such evaluation is currently
Please note, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can range from less advanced AI such as blind
spot detection (for example, obstacle detection on cars and RPAS) through to advanced
AI such as machine-learning where a machine will alter its behaviour based on previous
RPAS could be described as using only the less advanced AI. For example, the Mavic 3
Multispectral has obstacle detection to stop it from crashing into objects. It can use the
sensors to move around an object, but when flown again on the same path, it will not
remember its previous flight, therefore it is not learning from its previous flight.
You have the right to seek an investigation and review by the Ombudsman of this
decision. Information about how to make a complaint is available at
www.ombudsman.parliament.nz or freephone 0800 802 602.
Please note that as part of its commitment to openness and transparency, Police
proactively releases some information and documents that may be of interest to the
public. An anonymised version of this response may be publicly released on the New
Zealand Police website.
Superintendent Penelope Gifford
Director Tactical Operations