Police Drone Video Catches Beverly Hills, CA Thief in the Act

Law enforcement drones are sweeping across America, helping local police catch fleeing criminal suspects and rescuing lost and missing persons.  Occasionally, their high-powered video cameras even catch a perpetrator red-handed.

It happened last week in Beverly Hills, California, when a BHPD police drone, responding to a house alarm, caught a burglar climbing from the high second floor window of an expensive private home.  As the drone circled overhead, the man tried to escape on a tall ladder he’d propped against the back of the house.  He teetered for a few seconds, then proceeded to fall the two flights –  right into the home’s swimming pool.

It was a humorous moment, captured in full by BHPD drone’s video, which has since circulated on local and international news programs and on YouTube.  The man, identified as 36-year-old Robert Durnan, will soon get the 15 minutes of fame he’d surely hoped to avoid.

Beverly Hills was one of the first local jurisdictions to establish a drone first-responder team back in December 2019.  Like nearby Redondo Beach, the BHPD took its inspiration from the Chula Vista PD, which first pioneered the use of drones in this role back in 2019.  The DFR program, as it’s come to be known, has since spread to more than two dozen police departments nationwide.

But the BHPD’s “Real Time Watch Center” may well be the most sophisticated crime surveillance program currently operating anywhere in the country.  In addition to responding to citizen 911 calls, the department’s drones are the focal point for video surveillance the BHPD collects through stationary cameras and license plate readers – a system known as “Milestone” – located throughout the city.  Once the drone, known as “Hawkeye,” receives an electronic “hit” from any Milestone source, it’s automatically dispatched to the crime scene ahead of arriving field officers to provide situational intelligence as well as back up support.

Prior to acquiring its drone fleet, the BHPD relied on ground-based surveillance with air support from gas-powered helicopters alone.  But choppers are noisy, expensive to pilot and maintain, and burn fuel that contributes to air pollution.  Drones are faster, safer and more maneuverable, and with their intelligence capabilities, act as a force multiplier, reducing the number of officers needed to respond to unfolding crime incidents.

“I’ve been on the job for 28 years,”  the BHPD’s Lt. Robert Maycott has said of the Hawkeye system.  “We didn’t [used to] have what I call now the 3D incident command space, which allows us to use drones, Milestone, and other technology to enhance the officers’ operational ability.”

The BHPD began the Hawkeye program in response to an upsurge in “smash and grab“ robberies in the city’s posh downtown shopping area, but has since expanded it to other crime-sensitive areas of the city.  According to the department, property crime in Beverly Hills fell by 34% between June and September 2022 – a decline that is especially remarkable given that the summer months typically see a large crime spike.

That decline has allowed the BHPD to overcome any lingering concerns from local residents that their drones might be misused to violate citizen privacy rights.  While the department can use drones and other surveillance to scan license plates of vehicles on the road, they operate under strict protocols that restrict their use of collected video footage.

Durnan’s bumbling escapade will likely generate even more popular support for the BHPD  drone program.  Footage of his failed burglary has already been viewed by more than 75,000 people online, with nearly all applauding the police operation.

“Great job, BHPD!” said one enthusiastic viewer.

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