The use of drones in everyday law enforcement has become a serious conversation. However, the benefits of having drones on a police force go hand in hand with the myriad of security issues that make people skeptical of UAVs.
Lets get one thing straight: cops die in the line of duty. It happens. So, naturally, the most obvious argument for the use of drones by law enforcement is that they can save the lives of our boys in blue.
So before you go getting all hot and bothered about the prospect of ED-209 patrolling the streets outside your house, can we agree, when the bullets start flying, it makes more sense to send in a robot rather than your grossly underpaid, father-of-two, next-door neighbor who’s job description is “to protect and serve?”
Aside from the life-and-death applications of drones in law enforcement, there are far less dramatic uses. Search and rescue, first response, forensics, crowd control and traffic/fire management are all everyday duties of our law enforcement agencies that can benefit from the use of drones. Prox Dynamics PD-100 Personal Reconnaissance System was built specifically with these functions in mind.
Every drone that replaces a cop on patrol frees up valuable man hours. This is to say nothing of the funds that go towards gas and car maintenance for police vehicles (a tab your tax dollars are picking up) which could be allocated somewhere else.
For several years now, the Department of Homeland Security has been running a “loan-a-drone” program, in which it lends drones to local branches of federal law enforcement agencies, as well as municipal agencies. And in May 2012, the DHS launched its Air-based Technologies Program which John Appleby of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate told the Washington Times, “hands out grants to help underwrite local law enforcement purchases of their own drones.”
There hasn’t been a lot of high-profile news about drone use in law enforcement but examples are out there.
Bear with me on this one: In June 2011 North Dakota police attempted to arrest Rodney Brossart for his failure to return three cows from a neighboring farm that had strayed on to his property.
Because the story of the highest profile drone-related arrest in America begins with stolen cows, one can understand why the conversation often stops here and turns to outrage about the police state we live in. But as long as you are still with me…
During the arrest, Brossart and his three sons were involved in an armed standoff with law enforcement. Things calmed down, Brossart was released on bail and warrants were issued for his sons. According to FOX News, the family refused for months to respond to orders to appear in court which is what prompted Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke to have the U.S. Border Patrol deploy a drone to conduct live surveillance on the farm.
Apparently, the drone obtained the desired information. Five Brossart family members were arrest in November 2011 and convicted in January 2014.
Despite all the drama and controversy surrounding the case, Forbes’ Michael Peck hit the nail on the head when he wrote “the drones themselves are not the real issue. Had a manned police helicopter with a pilot at the controls helped to apprehend Brossart, the outcome would have been the same.”
The drone saved time, money and resources and obtained the same results without putting anyone new in the line of fire.
But lets be real, using drones to arrest a cow thief is hardly a compelling argument. In order to prove drones can be useful in the streets, we need to take them to the streets right?
A few weeks after Brossart’s conviction, USA Today ran a story about the use of drones in Tijuana, one of the most violent cities in the world. Free from the restrictions of US Law, the Tijuana police can fly drones through neighborhoods and tourist hot spots.
“It’s like having 20 officers on patrol or more,” Tijuana police chief Alejandro Lares told USA Today. “Even the bad guys … they’re going to know now there’s something in the air that might be watching them… It may be a small step in community policing, but it’s huge for our future.”
If a drone can deter criminal activity in Tijuana, would it not be worth giving it a legitimate chance in the US?
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com