Following the nation’s deadliest mass shooting in Las Vegas this week, some experts are wondering out loud: “Could drones make large events safer and even stop potential violence?”
Brian Levin, a criminal justice professor and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, says…probably.
“You could have a drone up in two minutes in Las Vegas and fired an incendiary device into [shooter Stephen Craig Paddock’s] room,” Levin said in an interview with LA Weekly. “If he had weapons of mass destruction, you’re going to wish you had a drone.”
Major metro police agencies, such as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, agree with Levin — properly-equipped police drones could save lives. However, the road to weaponized police drones is still on the horizon with agencies proceeding with caution.
“[A drone] is too important as a public-safety tool to ground. I will not face the loved ones of a victim whose life could have been saved by our ability to deploy UAS,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a media statement. “I cannot imagine meeting with the spouse or a parent of a fallen deputy and say, yes, we could have done more.”
McDonnell’s remarks were in response to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission’s advisory resolution to stop police use of drones in L.A. County – a move the sheriff opposes. The 5-4 vote prevailed despite the examples of effective drone use presented in a 42-page report.
“As of July 27, 2017, the LASD has operationally used the UAS on six occasions, one of which was witnessed by the COC’s staff. Of the six uses, one involved a dangerous, armed gunman and the others were search and rescue missions for a missing woman and for a missing young boy,” the report states.
The vote serves only as an advisory recommendation and McDonnell says he will move skyward with the department’s nascent drone program. However, he has no plans to weaponize his drones any time soon.
“The public input we at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have received from our communities has been overwhelmingly supportive of the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) program under the strict guidelines that we have established,” McDonnell stated in a Facebook post.
“I don’t think we can summarily dismiss the use of drones by major metropolitan police and sheriff agencies,” Levin told The LA Daily News. He agrees with McDonnell and neither have any desire to use drones to invade privacy.
“I think we have to strike a balance based on the new normal we have with respect to the level of violence we are seeing, also with the access to assault weapons,” Levin said.