Phoenix Police Department To Use Drones Along with the Fire Department and Parks Department

In 2016, Jeri L. Williams was appointed Police Chief of the Phoenix Police Department (PPD), serving more than 1 million residents over 516square miles. Under her leadership, the department has focused on a data-driven principle of policing. As explained by 25 year PPD veteran Assistant Chief Steve Martos, a data-driven police department uses technology gathered facts to assist in investigations and everyday tactics.

At the January 12, 2022, Public Safety and Justice Subcommittee meeting, Chief Martos presented to the committee the PPD’s plans to increase technology matters to the benefit of both the department and the city. Before going into his presentation, Chief Martos reminded those present of one of the biggest challenges the PPD has been faced with, adequate staffing. “From our 3,521 number of allotted sworn personnel,” he said, “we are down approximately 400 officers.” He went on to say that despite the decrease in staffing, the department has seen a 9% increase in Priority 1 Service calls over the last year. “Our proposal here really is much more a technology based solution to help force multiply our efforts in this particular area as we begin to address some of the issues and concerns of the neighborhood and businesses in the area,” Martos said.

Some of the added technology proposed by Martos included server space for video and databases, 30 point-tilt zoom cameras, fixed license plate readers, FireFly Gunshot Detection systems, and a department drone program. When Chief Williams took office in 2016, PPD had first looked into a drone program, but it kept getting put aside. Surrounding departments like Tempe, Scottsdale, and Chandler already have established drone programs that have been able to assist PPD in times of need. But, with the growing needs of an understaffed department, PPD knows that they need the extra support a drone program can provide.

The PPD felt that before putting drones into an officer’s hands, they had to make sure that all regulations were met. This included meeting the expectations of public opinion, ensuring the community that police would use drones in the best interest of the public. PPD has spent months creating policies that would allow them to freely use drones within FAA regulations and without having to await a court warrant. Additionally, they have been meeting with a lawyer specializing in privacy concerns. The department plans to hold public outreach programs to introduce drones before using them.

The PPD’s drone program will follow a 3 step phase, beginning with drones being appointed to the fire department, then the parks department, and lastly, the police department. PPD believes this 3 part phase will help the city transition into using drones in a smooth and reliant manner. Ultimately, the introduction of drones will help the city manage its staffing problem without jeopardizing sworn officer priorities. The committee approved the proposal, and PPD is now entering the final stages to initiate the drone program. Assistant Fire Chief Scott Walker is ready to start phase 1 of the drone program this coming summer. “The drone program could really enhance our current staff as we go out to serve our community,” Chief Walker said. “We can simply do more with one person with a drone than maybe with two or three people in the same time frame.”

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