California Police Are Using Drones As First Responders

California Police Are Using Drones As First Responders

Aerial surveillance in policing has always been a touchy subject, mostly because it’s largely unconstitutional. While most departments have eased up on doing such things, others are flipping the situation and using tech for something beneficial. NBC News reports the city of Santa Monica is one of a few cities in California that are using drones as first responders before police arrive.

Called “drones as first responder,” the program started in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista back in 2018. The city received permission from the FAA to use drones in the city’s airspace. Now according to NBC, drone use has expanded to other local cities like Beverly Hills and Redondo Beach.

Officials call the drone use beneficial, especially in certain situations that can get tense with officers.

Often, the biggest beneficiary is the target of a police encounter. Last year, Santa Monica got a 911 call about a man with a pistol in a drugstore parking lot. As officers sped to the scene, the drone flew overhead and at first appeared to confirm the man had a firearm.

But moments later, Lashley said as he showed the video to NBC News, “I can clearly see — and you’ll see him exhale, there’s a little bit of smoke here in a second — that I’m 99 per cent sure that that’s some type of lighter.”

That allowed an officer on foot to approach the man without concern that his life was in danger, which changed the nature of the encounter. A similar situation unfolded in Santa Monica when a group of teenagers appeared to be passing around two handguns in a main shopping area across from the beach, as seen in the drone video.

Others see the benefit of drone use mostly in situations that could have resulted in a life being saved, like the murder of Tamir Rice, who was killed when officers mistakenly thought his pellet gun was a real gun. Of course, though, there are those who are against drone use in any form.

The main concerns are the same as those worried about police body cam footage. Some departments are doing their best quell any notion that drone footage would be mishandled.

“What happens to the footage? Who gets access to it? Are the police going to release the footage when it makes them look heroic and bury it when it doesn’t?”

Police have sought to address those concerns. Departments prohibit operators from recording video over private homes or other places where people would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, except in emergencies or pursuant to warrants. Chula Vista publishes the flight paths for every drone mission on its website. Santa Monica officials say they destroy all video after 60 days unless it is being used as evidence or is needed for an investigation.

There is still one lingering problem. Notice that this use of drones is in cities or areas that are mostly wealthy. If these drones can limit deadly police interactions, they need to be used in areas where that’s more likely to happen. Not in some area where some housewife is more willing to call the cops over a suspicious-looking DoorDash driver.

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