Berlin wants to additionally secure prisons against drones

In the past, the file was baked into the bread; today, high-tech drones bring drug packages into Berlin's prisons. The latest technology is used to trick the security apparatus to smuggle knives and cocaine over the walls, at least that's the idea.

In Bavaria, therefore, a pilot project was launched in the fall of 2020 to stop drone approaches. For the time being, 15 special rifles have been distributed to correctional officers, which they can use to shoot drones out of the sky with nets in an emergency. And what is Berlin doing?

As is often the case, reality is more mundane than imagination: the last incident in a Berlin prison was just a week ago. At Plötzensee Prison, a net filled with 90 grams of cannabis, cell phones, sim cards and cigarette paper was found in the recreation yard. Someone had simply thrown it over the outside wall, and a staff member found it. Drones, on the other hand, have not been used for smuggling in over three years - or at least not discovered.

According to Berlin's justice administration, the last drone incidents were discovered in 2017. They had become "extremely rare," Sebastian Brux, spokesman for the justice administration, told the Tagesspiegel. In 2016, there were only six incidents.

Then in 2017, three: One incident occurred at the Tegel correctional facility, at which time a guard heard the sounds of a drone but did not see one. In a second incident, a drone landed on the sports field of the Berlin Juvenile Detention Center, without any contraband. In the same year, people were spotted handling a drone outside the Heidering correctional facility, police seized it but nothing was found.

As of 2018, no drone has been detected over a correctional facility. "Accordingly, we are not aware of any introductions of prohibited objects or substances by means of drone transport," Brux told the Tagesspiegel.

The numbers are thus lower in Berlin than in some other German states, where there are single-digit numbers of incidents annually. Contrast that with kilograms of cannabis and 258 cell phones found in the Plötzensee correctional facility in 2020 alone - presumably smuggled without high-tech.

Nevertheless, the Berlin justice administration also wants to provide additional security for the prisons. This is because, in principle, prisons in Berlin may not be flown over with drones any more than the Reichstag or the research reactor of the Helmholtz Center at Wannsee. The same applies to accident sites or crowds of people, hospitals and power plants.

However, the Bavarian way of shooting down the drones is rejected by the justice administration of Dirk Behrendt (Greens). "Firstly, there are doubts as to whether these launchers are of any practical use, secondly, there are no cases for them, and thirdly, we rely on smart solutions in technology," said spokesman Brux.

Instead, the Justice Department wants to advocate for so-called geo-fencing. This "encloses aerial areas with virtual fences and physically prevents the drone from entering the restricted space by programming the software," Brux explains. Frequency-based defenses are also being tested, which means signal jamming. The results will be presented at the conference of justice ministers in the fall. Perhaps, by then, another drone will have strayed across the skies of a correctional facility.


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