NBC News reported that the Santa Monica Police Department, in California, has deployed drones for responding to 911 calls. The drone is the first to arrive at the scene in 88-90% cases, before the officers.
Peter Lashley is a veteran police officer who operates the drone of the department from the command center at its police station. He told the news outlet the drone can arrive on the scene within 30 seconds.
Santa Monica is the first city to implement this program. The program was first implemented in 2018 by the Chula Vista Police Department. It has since been expanded to Beverly Hills, Redondo Beach and a dozen other departments across the United States.
Lashley said that the department’s use of drones was “a fundamental shift in the way we can provide policing to our city.”
Critics expressed concerns about privacy, namely that police drones could be used to conduct broad surveillance. The department has stated that drones are only used to respond to 911 requests and not for random surveillance.
Lashley stated, “We respond to 911 service calls.” “We do not randomly fly over the cities looking for anything wrong.”
He said that aerial technology was still “developing,” and “in its infancy.”
He continued, “It is a game changer.” “We will never get more benefit from breaking faith or using it irresponsibly than the benefits it brings us.
Lashley said that one of the biggest benefits of drones was the improved “situational awareness” it provides to officers as they travel.
Lashley described a case in which the police received a report that a group teenagers were carrying handguns near a shopping center. Using a drone to identify the teens, police officers determined that they were using BB guns.
He told NBC News that “the drone got there”. “We confirmed that they did indeed have guns. But as we watched, we realized these guns were airsoft BBs. We were able communicate this. The de-escalation of the situation was a great success. It went from a violent crime in progress to… a bunch of teens clowning around.”
The drone camera has been used by law enforcement to deescalate violent situations, read license plates, or catch evidence in a robbery.
Lashley explained that the technology allows a police officer with experience to monitor the situation in real-time and to communicate the facts to officers who are responding. This gives them a better perspective on what to expect than relying solely on incoming phone calls.