Every day, drones are used to make people’s lives easier. They have a number of applications across dozens of industries, and are used to make tasks more time efficient, financially efficient, and in some cases, to save lives. Drone’s have the capability to change how we work for the better. To put it simply - drones are tools, not toys.
As law enforcement units continue building drone programs across the country for search and rescue efforts, there’s a few that have taken their programs a step further. Take the Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD), for example, who have implemented a division called the Drone as First Responder (DFR) program.
On the roof of the Chula Vista Police Station sits several surveillance drones, sitting idly on their respective launch pads, ready to be deployed at a moment's notice. Each day, these drones respond to as many as 15 emergency calls a day, having been launched more than 4,100 times since the program’s establishment just two years ago. When an emergency call comes in at the CVPD, officers provide a location to the drone, which the drone flies to on its own. Once arriving at the approximate location, the drone is able to be controlled by an officer - who is located on the roof of the station - for more specific movements and actions.
Despite the program’s success, residents of the Southern California city have expressed their concerns regarding the DFR program. The drones’ ability to autonomously track people/vehicles, as well as a resident’s right to an expectation of privacy have been raised as the primary concerns. With two implemented launch sites and potentially a third on the way, the CVPD is working towards being able to cover the entire 52 square miles of the city with their Drone as First Responder Program.
Captain Don Redmond of the Chula Vista Police Department has responded to these concerns, assuring the public that drone footage is treated much like police body cam footage - stored as evidence when necessary, and only released publicly with approval. Redmond also clarified that these drones were not used for routine patrols/surveillance. Their drone unit is used only when responding to specific calls.
Rahul Sidhu, a police officer in Redondo Beach, whose department has started a program similar to Chula Vista’s, noted that using drones in certain situations is particularly helpful in light of certain circumstances in this country. First and foremost, with the continued relevance of COVID-19, limiting person-to-person contact is always preferred when possible. “We’re just trying to limit our exposure to other people,” said Sidhu. “Sometimes, you can send a drone without sending an officer.”
Additionally, Sidhu mentioned that as these drones continue to become less expensive and more advanced, programs like his and the DFR will be able to provide more efficient ways of policing urban areas. This is particularly important now, considering the decreasing number of police recruits across the country, as well as the recent political movements calling for decreased funding for police departments.
The Drones as First Responders program at the CVPD is continuing to expand and improve, and as previously mentioned, is inspiring other departments across California and beyond to follow suit.