CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Cities across the country are answering calls for police reform, banning controversial tactics, and slashing police budgets.
A Southern California police department is taking a different approach, using drones to earn the public’s trust.
“Most agencies that have drone programs, they have the traditional drone in the trunk, where the officer responds to a call for service. They see a drone may be needed, they launch it,” said Captain Don Redmond, a support operations captain for the Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD) “We wanted to be proactive in how we responded with our drones.”
Redmond says they’re using drones as a tool for de-escalation, arming officers with information. Drones are only launched in response to calls for service; surveillance is prohibited.
“We have heard the national message that law enforcement needs to do things differently,” said Capt. Redmond.
The department spent years developing its Drone as First Responder (DFR) program. They formed a committee in 2015, studying best practices, policies, and procedures for the use of drones in law enforcement.
“We had a drone program for about a year before we ever bought a drone. We reached out to the public, we reached out to the ACLU, we developed policies,” said Capt. Redmond.
CVPD was the only law enforcement agency selected for the FAA’s Integration Pilot Project, a federal initiative designed to help integrate drones into the National Air Space.
Read more: Florida Legislation Could Bolster Police Use of Drones
“We are the only agency in the entire country to be staging drones and launching them for calls for service, for emergencies,” said Capt. Redmond.
Perched on tall buildings, the drones are prepped and ready to respond to calls. Like a self-driving car, the drone can get to a scene with the push of a button.
The drone is often the first to arrive, live streaming video to officers in real-time.
Agent Matt Hardesty, a DFR teleoperator, decides which calls to send the drone to.
“I can hear something, the urgency, and can typically be on scene in 120 seconds, many times before the call is typed and entered into the dispatch center,” said Agent Hardesty.
A 27-year veteran of the force, officers in the field rely on his experience to get the most accurate information in fast-moving situations.
“It is probably by far the best de-escalation tool I’ve ever seen in my career,” said Hardesty. “We get calls of people possibly armed, and with the powerful camera I’m able to zoom in and be able to see if their hands are empty and be able to let officers on the ground know.”
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Source: Amanda Brandeis
Photo credit: Press