5 ways drones can help cops fight crime

Drones are becoming a go-to tool for law enforcement — here are five ways your agency can use them


By Sean Varah
PoliceOne Contributor

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), more commonly referred to as drones, have been a popular topic among both businesses and law enforcement agencies due to growing interest in their use in non-military applications.

Police departments can deploy drones to improve their ability to enforce the law and protect lives, all while saving valuable resources like police officer time and tax dollars.

Police departments can deploy drones to improve their ability to enforce the law and protect lives, all while saving valuable resources. (AP Image)
Police departments can deploy drones to improve their ability to enforce the law and protect lives, all while saving valuable resources. (AP Image)

Here are five different situations in which drones can help your department fight crimes.

1. Active Shooter
A bird’s eye view can enable police to gain a quick understanding of the scope of what is going on in an active shooter situation.

The view from a drone can not only provide the location of the shooter, but also an understanding of the surrounding area, offering valuable information such as the direction the shooter might be headed, escape routes for victims and the shooter’s firing line.

UAVs are also great tools for active shooter situations because they can be deployed from almost anywhere and stored in the trunk of a cruiser.

They can also access areas traditional helicopters cannot. UAVs have an ability to fly lower to the ground, get into tight spots, hover under bridges and structures, and even fly inside buildings in order to help the experts gather as much detail as they can.

2. Crime and Traffic Accident Scene Analysis
Crime and accident scene documentation requires a highly trained crew of forensic experts, including crime scene photographers, who meticulously capture detailed evidence from specific angles under precise conditions.

The exact crime scene must be documented for further investigation, even after the scene is cleaned up.  It can take hours, sometimes days, for a photographer to fully document a scene with proper measurement references.

In the case of a traffic accident, this requires the roads to be closed while the work takes place — measuring skid marks, position of vehicles, and other details — all while holding up traffic.

Drones can reduce photographer time to well under an hour. Using a few simple ground measurements as reference points, the drone can fly over the accident to capture images, and the analyst can conduct the accident investigation on a computer rather than at the scene.

3. Surveillance
Stakeouts are a common police activity — involving hours of waiting and watching.

Drones allow police to see places and things that fixed cameras cannot. Although drones cannot hover endlessly, they can land or “perch.”

Rotors can be powered off while keeping the camera on — pointed and zoomed at the action — from concealed locations where humans cannot reach.

Additionally, there are a myriad of places, like the middle of a field, where there is no vantage point to conduct standard surveillance without being seen. In these cases, a high-flying drone offers the best opportunity to get a solid view of the scene.

4. Crowd Monitoring
Monitoring large events like concerts, parades and sporting events is extremely expensive and requires a great deal of manpower.

All available agents are deployed to monitor various routes and areas where there are security concerns. This strategy leaves many agents covering one single area, watching “nothing” happen.

Augmenting ground teams with drones gives police departments a wider field of surveillance over a large area. Drones can zoom to areas of interest, giving agents the ability to remotely assess a threat, such as a suspicious package.

This type of immediate, crowd-based monitoring can provide police with the vital information needed to make the critical decision to send ground personnel to a location only when it’s necessary to do so.

5. Bomb Inspection
Today, bomb disposal enforcement units use ground-based robots to investigate suspicious packages. Aerial drones can serve the same purpose.

While drones can’t touch and manipulate bombs, they can provide an initial assessment of the situation and rule out threats before resources are wasted or lives are lost.

This means getting data to decision-makers who can monitor the situation.

These are only five examples of how police can deploy drones to fight crime, but know there are many more creative ways in which UAVs can aid officers and agencies.

Dr. Sean Varah is founder and CEO of MotionDSP, a Silicon Valley-based company making computer vision and video enhancement software.

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