Las Vegas police drones will monitor New Year’s Eve crowds

Updated December 27, 2017 - 5:44 pm

Las Vegas police will use drones to watch over New Year’s Eve celebrations on the Strip, technology the department was not able to use the night of the Oct. 1 mass shooting.

Officer David Martel said the department will use two drones — a Yuneec H520 and a Yuneec Typhoon 4 — to monitor crowds, identify suspicious packages and track any unusual activity on Strip properties.

Martel said the unmanned aerial vehicles also will check hotel windows for anyone who might try to copy the events of Oct. 1, when a gunman shattered the windows of his 32nd-floor suite at Mandalay Bay and sprayed bullets on 22,000 concertgoers at a nearby outdoor music festival. The gunman killed 58 people and injured more than 500 others before killing himself.

“The biggest thing is to provide support to our officers and to provide a better aerial view,” Martel said Wednesday. “It’s hard to get the helicopter along the Strip. Drones are a lot smaller, and you’re able to get into tighter areas.”

Those tighter areas might be especially helpful to get a closer look at unaccompanied packages, for example, he said.

Having the drones monitor crowds from an aerial view also will help police better position barricades and other pedestrian control devices, he said.

Metro drone use

Metro purchased five drones from Yuneec earlier this year for $15,000. Martel estimated the drones arrived Sept. 27, just days before the mass shooting. They were still in unopened boxes in a hangar at the North Las Vegas airport when the shooting occurred.

He headed to the hangar as quickly as he could when he got word of the shooting Oct. 1, hoping to use the drones to support first responders.

But the drones arrived to the department fresh from the manufacturer. The batteries weren’t charged. Martel said it would have taken an hour to get them fully charged, and the gunfire lasted for about 10 minutes.

Had Martel been able to take a fully charged drone with him the night of the shooting, he said he would have used it to locate people who needed help — at least one of the drones is equipped with thermal imaging sensors.

Others have a much broader vision for how drones could have helped police address the shooter on Oct.1 — though current policy and technology would have to evolve to support this vision.

Active-shooter situations

The day after the shooting, Martel used one of the department’s drones to create a 3-D map the crime scene.

“You can kind of re-enact a scene, in some aspects,” he said. “It’s documenting evidence,” like the locations of shell casings.

Had Martel gotten to the scene of the crime much, much earlier, he said the drone could have been used to gather information about what was happening and where.

Metro initially estimated that it took 72 minutes from the first 911 call for law enforcement to the moment police breached the shooter’s hotel room on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay, though the timeline is still under review.

Police began searching the hotel’s 29th floor before determining the gunman was on the 32nd floor.

“Think about how useful a drone might have been if we have situations like this (Las Vegas shooting) now for large events,” Brian Levin, director of The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino, told the Los Angeles Daily News in October. “You have a guy on the 32nd floor (of a hotel), a drone could have provided real-time intelligence and surveillance to what’s going on.”

However, knowing exactly where the gunman was might have been hard to pinpoint, Martel said, because every building has different ways of classifying levels. For instance, some resorts might mark the ground level as lobby instead of as the first floor, or the second level as mezzanine.

A broader vision

Ryan Wallace, a professor at Polk State College in Lakeland, Florida, envisions a much broader use for drones in situations like the Oct. 1 shooting.

“When you look at the (gunman Stephen) Paddock scenario, you have about 10 minutes of serious carnage. If you have a distraction created by a drone, you could have bought critical moments that could have saved lives,” Wallace told the Review-Journal.

In an October paper Wallace co-authored with Jon Loffi, a professor at Oklahoma State University, in the International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics and Aerospace, Wallace and Loffi advocated using drones for tactical operations, and even equipping drones with nonlethal equipment, like tear gas or smoke canisters.

“It’s a very unanticipated type of response from law enforcement,” Wallace said. “When you’re dealing with any scenario, and especially one as well-planned as Paddock had clearly taken the effort to plan, an unexpected tactical response, like a drone, probably would have created a distraction.”

For those few seconds, the gunman may have redirected his fire to shoot at the drone, or if he was impacted with something like tear gas he may have taken a break from firing at all.

Surprise responses can allow “a tactically poor situation to be turned into a tactically superior situation,” Wallace said.

A while out

Nevada is one of five states that ban the use of weaponized drones — North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont and Wisconsin are the others, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two others, Maine and Virginia, ban law enforcement from using them altogether, according to the organization.

The Nevada law prohibits a drone from being “weaponized” and makes it unlawful for a person to operate “a weaponized unmanned aerial vehicle.” Violators can be found guilty of a category D felony.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval told the Review-Journal in early December that weaponizing drones is “something that Metro should look at.”

“We should take advantage of all advances in technology to make sure that people are as safe as they possibly can be,” Sandoval said, adding that weaponizing drones is something he would like to discuss further.

Martel said equipping a drone with temporary blinding lights, tear gas or smoke canisters falls into a gray area.

Are those considered weapons or tools? The Nevada law does not define what constitutes a weapon.

North Dakota is the only state that allows police to use weaponized drones but limits the use to “less lethal” weapons such as stun guns.

There are currently no federal regulations against owning an armed drone.

Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter.

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A man who allegedly tried to use a counterfeit bill at the Aria was hospitalized after he jumped off an overpass trying to escape police. About 2 a.m. Tuesday, security at the Aria flagged down police. When police tried to talk to him, the man fled and led police on a foot chase, according to Lt. David Gordon. The chase ended at the Harmon Avenue overpass above Interstate 15, when the man jumped off the side and landed in the rocky landscaping below. The man was taken to the hospital for evaluation.
Rancho Discount Mall shooting
Las Vegas police are investigating a deadly shooting Monday morning in central Las Vegas. A man was found dead after 3 a.m. outside the Rancho Discount Mall at 2901 W. Washington Ave. The man had been shot once. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police have blocked off the parking lot in front of the store while detectives investigate. At 5 a.m., the man’s body was still on scene, laying on the walkway near a shopping cart and a pile of blankets.
Deadly shooting on Calimesa Street
Las Vegas police are investigating a fatal shooting Monday morning on the 4200 block of Calimesa Street. An adult man was found in front of a house with multiple gunshot wounds. He was taken to a hospital where he died, according to Metropolitan Police Lt. David Gordon. Homicide detectives also are investigating another deadly shooting that occurred a short time after the Calimesa Street shooting. A person was killed at 2901 W. Washington Ave.
Man shoots wife and 15-year-old stepdaughter in Las Vegas
Las Vegas teen accused of sexual deviancy in elementary school
A Las Vegas teen accused of raping 4 of his classmates had been disciplined for sexual deviancy in elementary school Maysen Melton was suspended from Bracken Elementary for allegedly sexually harassing classmates He was later disciplined for sexual deviancy at three different middle schools Melton now faces 23 felony counts for allegedly raping 4 of his classmates at Shadow Ridge High School Melton may face additional charges after another victim came forward, alleging Melton sexually abused her in October In one alleged incident, Melton pushed a girl to the floor before raping her He allegedly responded by saying, "No means yes"' and "I know you’ll like it in the end." District Judge Jennifer Togliatti pointed to an "astronomical probability of conviction" and raised Melton's bail from $200,000 to $500,000
Deadly shooting in south Las Vegas
Las Vegas police are investigating a Friday shooting that left a woman in the south valley dead. Police believe her husband shot and killed her at a house on Giles Street. The shooter as of 1:30 a.m. remained on the loose and was considered armed and dangerous. A police helicopter circled the sky looking for the suspect. Neighbors could be seen peeking through window curtains as police secured the neighborhood and warned people to stay inside.
Judge Doug Herndon confronts Bryan Clay in Las Vegas
Bryan Clay was sentenced to life in prison without parole in December for the rape and murder of a mother and her 10-year-old daughter. On Thursday, he was in court again to be sentenced for other charges, including robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault of a minor under 14 . Prosecutors told Judge Doug Herndon Thursday that Clay can be heard on his jail phone conversations saying he “tricked jurors, that he’ll be back soon, that he’ll in fact get his appeal more quickly.” Judge Doug Herndon told him the case has haunted him since “opening statements.” Briana Erickson/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas arrest warrant details Floyd Mayweather Sr. assault accusation
Las Vegas police said Floyd Mayweather Sr. dragged a woman by the leg from the backseat of his car and punched her after a boxing match on the Strip, according to court documents obtained Thursday. The father of boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. battered her hours after the Sept. 16 fight at T-Mobile Arena between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, the elder Mayweather’s arrest warrant said. The woman and her husband had attended the fight with Mayweather Sr. and his girlfriend, the Metropolitan Police Department wrote in his arrest warrant. Police said Mayweather Sr. pulled her from the car and battered her. He then drove off, leaving the woman and her husband in a parking lot. A warrant for his arrest was issued Jan. 16. Mayweather Sr. was in Clark County Detention Center Wednesday, but has since posted bond.
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