Drone as First Responder Program Continues to Take Hold Nationwide

Two more local police departments – one in Las Vegas, NV, the other in Elk Grove, CA – have just embraced the Drone As First Responder (DFR) Program – bringing to nearly 30 the number of law enforcement agencies nationwide that have embraced the innovative crime-fighting system.

DFR – first initiated in Chula Vista, CA back in 2019 – allows local police departments to dispatch UAVs to potential crime scenes immediately after receiving a 911 call.  The drones, pre-positioned on office rooftops and dispatched at the push of a button, can hover over a prospective crime scene, allowing arriving field officers to gain the vital situational intelligence needed to position themselves and adjust their  use of force to the tactical requirements at hand.

Research has shown that departments with DFR programs can close 911 calls faster, reducing police operational costs.  The program also allows departments to de-escalate violent encounters, minimizing casualties to officers and suspects alike.

Both the LVPD and the EGPD already have drone programs in place to support search-and-rescue operations and crime and accident scene analysis.  But the DFR program is specifically geared to enhancing their response to police emergencies involving violent assaults and robberies.  While murders are down in both locales, the two cities have experienced sharp increases in other crimes in recent months, including robberies and vehicle thefts, especially carjackings.

The EGPD conducted a thorough review of DFR policies in place at nine different police departments nationwide before selecting a modality tailored to the city’s needs.  Drones will be stationed at three locations in downtown Elk Grove and  piloted remotely from the department’s real-time information center. The new program will cost $2.1 million annually, officials say.

While other police departments have chosen to partner with drone service companies like BRINC and Flying Lion, the EGPD has decided to work with New York-based Aerodome based on a closer match between its operational systems and the department’s perceived needs.

The LVPD’s new DFR program is likely to be implemented somewhat differently.  The department plans to equip field officers with drones that can be stored and deployed from police vehicle trunks as officers arrive at prospective crime scenes.  In addition, the department plans to continue relying on its current helicopter fleet, especially for search-and-rescue operations.

LVPD deputy chief Dara Koren acknowledged recently that the department is sensitive to community concerns over potential threats to citizen privacy due to police aerial surveillance operations.   While the department’s program has been evaluated by federal police agencies to conform to existing privacy guidelines and protocols, having drones deployed by police at the scene – rather than remotely piloted over the city – appears to be a better way of ensuring community backing for the new rapid-response program.

Despite some lingering concerns, support for DFR from local city councils and police and fire departments is clearly growing.  In recent months, law enforcement agencies in Brookhaven, GA, Montgomery County, MD and Schenectady, New York, among others, have also implemented new DFR programs.  Preliminary evaluations suggest that the programs have allowed departments to streamline their 911 response systems, slashing police response times, reducing operational costs  and allowing officers to be better deployed and distributed across their jurisdictions.

A formal evaluation by the Chula Vista Police Department found that the CVPD had sent drones to more than 16,000 calls since 2019, with an average response time of just under two minutes.  By contrast, average response times using field officers without drones exceeded 20 minutes in 14 other local police departments included in the CVPD review.

The global market for public safety drones is expected to triple in size from $1.1 billion in 2022 to $3.7 billion in 2032, for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.1% during the ten-year period, according to a recent report by Allied Market Research.

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