How US Police Departments are Using Drones

As of May 2018, at least 599 law enforcement agencies had purchased drones, according to research by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, Let’s take a look at some specific examples.

As of May 2018, at least 910 state and local public safety agencies had purchased drones, according to research by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, Of which, 66% (599) were law enforcement agencies.

Drones can be used in several different ways: Assisting police with search and rescue; helping to investigate an active shooter situation; or analyzing a crime scene.

Let’s take a look at some specific examples.

Drone Response to Emergencies in California

Drone Display 1

The Chula Vista Police Department is using drones to respond to emergency calls before officers arrive at the scene.

“These drones can go search in areas that we wouldn’t be able to cover,” said Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy. “They can have a vantage point up to 400 feet and they can look down and see things that we’ve never seen.”

The department’s drone program began in December 2015 and has evolved since then. The drones are now used as “first responders,” making the program the first in the US  to use the technology in such a way.

Upon receiving a 911 call or notice of an emergency incident, the department deploys the devices from the rooftop of its headquarters. Then, the drone’s onboard camera streams video in high definition back to the police offices in real-time.

The drones are controlled by trained Critical Incident Managers, who communicate with officers in the field, providing them information about the situation. Drone video footage can also stream to first responders’ cell phones, giving them a direct look at the scene.

Thanks to this strategy, police officers recently arrested a woman for assault with a deadly weapon. When officers arrived on the scene, they knew exactly where to find the man and woman who were reportedly fighting, and what had happened moments beforehand.

NYPD adds 14 Drones

Drone View 1

In December 2018, the nation’s largest police force unveiled a fleet of 14 drones used for search and rescue missions, crime scene documentation, hazmat incidents, large events such as concerts, and hostage situations.

The unmanned aerial vehicles will help the NYPD gather key information as situations unfold before officers arrive, lessening the danger to them, the agency said.

“So, let me be clear, NYPD drones will not be used for warrantless surveillances,” Chief of Department Terence Monahan told reporters. “NYPD drones will be used to save lives and enhance our response in emergency situations.”

According to deployment reports obtained by am New York via a Freedom of Information Law request, the longest flight has been clocked at 4 hours and 30 minutes on January 19. The location suggests that this was the 2019 Women’s March.

The second-longest flight was on March 19, when a drone was used to track a man in an upper story Brooklyn apartment who seemed to have a gun. Drones were also deployed over Manhattan on the day of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and (apparently very briefly) on New Year’s Eve.

Most of the flights were either labeled as “Documentation of Collision and Crime Scene” or the catch-all “Public Safety, Emergency, or Other Situation with the Approval of the Chief of Department.”

Pullman Police Innovation Award for Use of Drones

The Alliance for Innovation has awarded the Pullman Police Department for its use of drones in local government initiatives, community outreach, and welfare projects.

Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins said the Outstanding Achievement in Local Government Innovation Award recognizes the department’s newly formed drone program.

“We not only use our drones for law enforcement purposes, such as officer safety and manpower,” Jenkins said, “but we’ve also assisted the public works department in conducting inspections of water towers and WSU athletics in conducting facilities assessments.”

The Pullman Police Department drone program began in 2017 and was authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate and assist law enforcement agencies in five Washington counties and two Idaho counties.

The police department is also participating in research on drones and law enforcement with Washington State University.

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