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Drones are everywhere these days. How are police using them?

Updated April 18, 2024 - 7:57 pm

The Metropolitan Police Department is launching a pilot program to expand the use of drones in its daily operations.

Metro’s new program dubbed Drones as First Responders plans to use drones more regularly in an attempt to enhance the safety of the public and to provide extra support to the officers that serve in the department.

Metro already has used drones over the past several years, but with the DRF program, Metro is taking the next step to make them one of the most technologically advanced police agencies in the country.

“We’re looking to expand this program and make it official, larger and more robust,” Metro Deputy Chief Dori Koren said during a news conference Thursday. “Because we want to make sure capabilities that are very effective are offered to everyone in our community.”

Metro has used drones to patrol major events such as the Super Bowl and Las Vegas Grand Prix, survey crash and crime scenes, during search and rescue operations, and to provide real-time intelligence while trying to de-escalate volatile situations.

Koren said Metro’s fleet of drones will grow from “several” to “dozens” in the future. That will allow multiple police vehicles equipped with drones to be located on the east and west sides of the valley.

“No matter what neighborhood you live in, no matter what area, if there is a violent crime, if there is a major incident that is threatening our community members that we have this capability to be able to respond quickly and deploy these types of assets and help enhance the safety in that area,” Koren said.

Any Metro drone operator must first obtain a Part 107 drone certification with the Federal Aviation Administration and go through additional training with the department. Drone use will help reduce costs for the department related to using helicopters for certain operations. But helicopters will still be regularly used by Metro during pursuits and search and rescue missions.

While Metro expands its drone program, officials want to ensure the public’s right to privacy is being adhered to when drones are in use.

“We want to make sure that we balance our effectiveness of fighting crime and holding criminals accountable and ensuring public safety and also the expectation that privacy is upheld as well,” Koren said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice have evaluated Metro’s policies and procedures related to drone use. The federal agencies determined that Metro should have safeguards in place and use them in a measured way, he said.

“Ultimately our goal here is to make sure that we save lives and that we are prioritizing humanity,” Koren said. “We give our officers that best tools possible to do their jobs and we make sure as the leaders of this organization that we have the right protocols and right policies in place to ensure that there is proper use.”

Drone dogs next?

As Metro ramps up its drone program, officials also are exploring the possibilities of using other technologies to enhance the department’s operations.

One potential use could be using drone dogs in situations where there is a threat to human and K-9 officers.

“We are experimenting with and trying to figure out how that works and what it works (for),” Koren said. “The idea behind that is, again, a SWAT situation, very similar to our other types of robots that are on wheels and go in and maybe can open a door. We’re looking at other options that may be more effective going up stairs and things like that. But as of now, it’s purely just testing.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on X.

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