A Man Found Sleeping in Target Gets A Rude Awakening — From a Police Drone

Last week, the Glendale Police Department (GPD) in Arizona received a report from employees at a local Target that a man was hiding in the basement of their store. The GPD responded with a team of armed officers – but their first deployment was a drone, one of at least 14 UAVs that the department currently has at its disposal to respond to 911 calls and to other possible emergencies.

The drone flew throughout the store and finally located the man, apparently asleep atop a merchandise storage rack.  The suspect, who was subsequently charged with burglary, reacted by repeatedly throwing pillows at the drone, hoping to down the craft.  As shown on multiple videos of the encounter circulating on social media, the drone’s highly trained remote pilot deftly dodged the pillows, then signaled GPD officers to move in, which they did, arresting the man, who surrendered peacefully.

Many police departments with drones – some 1,600 nationwide, about 10% of the total –  aren’t necessarily equipped with small highly maneuverable indoor drones that can operate in dark enclosed spaces in GPS-denied areas, but the GPD is ahead of the game.  The GPD began its drone program back in 2019 when the police chief and his top assistant, Colby Brant, visited their counterparts in Chula Vista, California, where the police department is widely recognized as the nation’s police drone pioneer.  It took another two years for the GPD to complete its training program and to purchase its current fleet, most of which are used to respond rapidly to 911 calls, to search for lost or missing persons, or to chase fleeing criminal suspects.

“We’ve needed air support for quite some time because we don’t even have a helicopter,” Brant told the Glendale Star back in 2021.

The GPD’s chalked up numerous successes with its drones to date.  But perhaps none more satisfying than its ability to rescue lost or missing persons that might otherwise have perished due to prolonged exposure to the elements.

The department’s specialized search and rescue (SAR) drones can scour a search area far more quickly than traditional foot patrols and K-9 teams, which also saves on personnel and fuel costs. The drones are equipped with high-powered thermal imaging cameras that can detect people at night based on their heat signature alone.

The department estimates that it’s saved more than a dozen people from danger – hikers lost or injured in the desert, or tots and elders that have wandered away from home – in 2023 alone.

Another common GPD drone mission is enhanced accident scene analysis.  Equipped with special photogrammetry software, GPD drones can fly over the scene of a traffic collision and precisely reconstruct the entire accident in half the time field investigators using more conventional data collection methods would take.

“It gets people moving back on the roadways a lot quicker,” says Brant.

Fears about a possible invasion of citizen privacy due to police drone use — a concern often heard elsewhere – haven’t been much of an issue in Glendale, according to Brant.  The GPD from the outset has developed detailed protocols for drone purchase and deployment, explaining to the public how its expanding fleet would be used with regular postings on its website.

For example, the GPD does not allow its drones to conduct routine surveillance, even in areas known to be crime-ridden.  It takes a 911 call or some other specific notice to trigger a drone response – as was the case with last week’s Target deployment.

Apparently, much of the support for acquiring and using drones at the GPD comes from older members of the force.   Quite a few, it turns out, are drone hobbyists that enjoy flying their own aircraft on weekends.  When the training program began two years ago,  they jumped at the chance to apply their drone flying expertise to police work.

Training and other support for the GPD’s drone program has come from Vector Solutions, a Tampa, FL-based company that works closely with police agencies to acquire and deploy advanced technologies, including drones, and to achieve compliance with federal, state and local regulations.   The GPD’s 3-year contract with Vector – which cost $161,000 – expires on Oct. 11, 2024.

“At that point, we’ll be able to evaluate if they’re providing what we need and if it’s cost effective,” Brant says. “Then we could look to renew.”

Glendale’s police department has the distinction of being just one of two dozen law enforcement agencies nationwide that participate in the Drone First Responder (DFR) program which allows drones to be dispatched automatically to crime scenes in response to 911 calls, without the need for remote piloting.  DFR allows field officers to adapt their tactics and force levels prior to arriving at the scene.  Most DFR deployments occur in outdoor settings and the dispatched drone merely hovers overhead.  In the Target incident, a more specialized hands-on response was required.

More than three dozen public safety agencies in Arizona – including police departments in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Scottsdale – also deploy drones, according to public records.  In addition, several major fire departments in the state have acquired drones to assess the size, scope and likely direction of blazes, allowing firefighters to contain them more quickly.

ABOUT US: DroneVideos.com is a Nationwide Media Company specializing in custom Drone Videos for real estate, commercial, farms, construction, golf courses, roof inspections and more. All of our Drone Operators are fully licensed and insured. When you purchase a Drone Video Package from us, you will receive a video professionally edited, color corrected and presented to you on an SEO-Friendly webpage that you can easily share online and on Social Media with a click of a button. Click here to get started.

Previous Drone News:

Start Your Order
We Offer a Variety of Drone Video Packages
to Fit Your Needs and Budget