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Eye in the Sky to Help German Police Fight Hooligans

With violence at lower-division soccer matches a recurrent problem, especially in eastern Germany, police plan to use a small flying drone to maintain order. Its first test comes this weekend in Saxony.

Miniature heilocopter

This is Saxony's secret weapon

The fifth-division match between Locomotive Leipzig and Kickers Markkleeberg on Sunday, Feb 24, came under an unusual type of scrutiny.

Fearing fan violence, authorities decided to watch over events outside the stadium and in the stands with a camera mounted on a 60,000 euro ($90,000) miniature helicopter.

"We're the first to employ an unmanned drone under real conditions," Saxony Police President Bernd Merbitz told DPA news agency. "Usually we can only see the first row. If a stone comes flying from a group of people, you can't tell who it was."

Authorities said they would have a state prosecutor on site at the Markkleeberg Stadium to analyze the images taken by the camera and decide whether arrests need to be made.

Stadium fears

Dynamo fans destroying stuff

Fans of lower-division, eastern German teams have a bad reputation

While violence from soccer hooligans is largely under control in the upper divisions, it has repeatedly flared up in the lower leagues, where teams often lack the resources to deal with sometimes drunken crowds and ensure security.

Teams from Saxony, where social frustration runs relatively high, have often been at the center of the soccer-related fighting.

In late 2006, Dresden Dynamo fans ran riot at a match against Hertha Berlin's amateur developmental squad. Thirty-eight people were injured in battles between supporters and security guards.

Action belongs on the pitch

Police

Conventional security methods haven't ended the problem

And in February 2007, all matches from the fifth division on down in Saxony were cancelled because of doubts that the clubs concerned could keep spectators safe.

Saxony police hope that by using high-tech surveillance methods they can keep the action where it belongs -- on the pitch.

"We have no intention of stigmatizing true fans," Merbitz said. "But people shouldn't always have to be afraid that others will run wild, if the opposing team scores a goal."

The Saxony police's plan has attracted considerable media attention in the run up to the match this weekend, and those concerned with ending hooliganism will be watching to see whether the miniature eye-in-the-sky actually helps.

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