- Public safety agencies across the United States have been quick to adopt drone programs for law enforcement, according to a report from the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College.
- Research found drone usage increased by 82% in the past year. At least 910 agencies own one drone or more.
- The report found there are twice as many public safety agencies with drones as there are agencies with manned aircraft such as helicopters.
This research, an update to the center’s previous work studying drone usage, reveals how public safety agencies have come to increasingly rely on drones, particularly for law enforcement. And the growth has been explosive — around 150 agencies started drone programs between 2009 and 2015, but more than 700 drone programs have started from 2016 to now.
That growth shows how important such new technologies are becoming, with some jurisdictions employing multiple drone programs. Cook County, IL — which includes Chicago — has 11 agencies that use drones, while other major cities like Los Angeles also have multiple programs.
And police departments are already exploring new ways to make use of drones. In Louisville, KY, the department applied to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to deploy drones where gunshots are detected by the city’s new ShotSpotter technology, which uses microphone sensors to locate gunfire. The drones would quickly find evidence of gunfire and possibly identify suspects and victims, with a view to helping on "shots fired" calls.
Drones can also be used in a variety of other ways by public safety agencies, including following the movement of wildfires and car and pedestrian movement at major events, as well as construction companies scanning aging bridges. But with such monitoring and data collection comes great responsibility, and it is imperative for public safety officials to use them in a safe way and ensure that no one’s right to privacy is infringed upon.