Faced With Crime Spikes, Police Departments in Miami and San Francisco Expand Their Drone Surveillance Operations

Police departments in San Francisco and Miami are taking fresh steps to enhance their law enforcement capabilities – in both cases, by expanding their drone surveillance operations in response to rising crime threats.

In San Francisco, recent passage of Proposition 90 will allow the SFPD to use facial recognition technology as its newly acquired Skydio X10 drones fly over public gatherings and pursue criminal suspects, a measure expressly forbidden under police restrictions passed back in 2019.

In addition, the department will be able to retain drone video footage for longer periods than previously allowed – pushing back against privacy concerns that previously limited such usage.

Meanwhile, in Miami local police are expanding their periodic drone overflights of public events to include Spring Break gatherings at the city’s popular beaches.  In recent years, Spring Break vacations have drawn record crowds – and record levels of assaults, thefts and drunken and rowdy behavior that threaten the public peace, police say.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed lauded the passage of Proposition F, saying it would aid local law enforcement.  “By supporting the work of our police officers, expanding our use of technology, and getting officers out from behind their desks and onto our streets, we will continue in our mission to make San Francisco a safer city,” Breed said after the vote. “Thank you to the voters for passing Prop F to bring more treatment and accountability to San Francisco.”

Miami Beach’s police department already relies on a fleet of Skydio S2+, X2, and X10 drones for traffic monitoring, accident reconstruction, and overwatch for large-scale public events.  But ongoing surveillance of beach activities over successive days marks a significant role expansion, official say, one necessitated by an upsurge in criminal activity.  In addition to the drone patrols, the police plan to conduct bag searches and to establish DUI checkpoints.  The drones will be permitted to film license plates remotely, to identify vehicle drivers, a measure privacy experts once frowned upon.

“At the Miami Beach Police Department, keeping the public safe is our number one priority,” says MBPD sergeant Anthony Loperfido.  “We are employing every resource available to us and advanced technology like Skydio’s X10 drone is a critical part of that. These tools allow us to work quickly, more efficiently, and remotely to increase public safety in Miami Beach.”

San Francisco and Miami are only the latest local law enforcement agencies to expand their operations beyond their previous limits.  In Manhattan, Mayor Eric Adams, has authorized the NYPD to conduct drone overflights of weekend neighborhoods barbecues and private sporting events where violence has been known to occur.  The expanded overflights began even before Adams formally authorized them, reflecting a growing NYPD concern about a rise in criminal activities throughout the city.

According to NYPD statistics, the department’s drone deployments increased five fold during the first three quarters of 2023 compared to the same period the previous year.  For the period of July-September alone, deployments spiked by a factor of 11, statistics show.

Some privacy groups like the ACLU continue to express concern about expanded drone deployments but public support for them seems to be growing.  San Francisco’s Proposition F passed overwhelmingly last week and so far, citizen complaints about drone flights in Miami Beach have been few.

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