When many of us think of drones, our minds immediately think of how the military utilizes the technology for intelligence gathering and precision bombing. And, although, we are technically correct, drones have become increasingly more common in other aspects of society, including law enforcement.
As the technology becomes more commonplace, costs have dropped, which has resulted in everyday people owning and using drones. In fact, if you were recently at an event with a decent sized crowd, there was most likely a drone flying above taking aerial footage for use by the police, event coordinators or a news outlet.
While drones have done a wonderful job of enhancing our exploration of the world from above, there are of course people who use drones for sinister purposes. Just like most emerging technologies, the advancement of drones is moving quicker than the laws that regulate its usage; especially when it comes to privacy.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Drones (aka unmanned aerial vehicles) have existed for over 150 years. In fact, during the Civil War, the military on both sides of the conflict used archaic forms of drone technology. Commanders would launch balloons filled with explosives across enemy lines. The intent was to wreak havoc within the enemy’s camp without detection.
In World War II, unmanned bombers were used to deliver devastation to selected enemy targets. The plan was rather straightforward – a crew would abandon a stripped-down bomber in midair, and then surrender control to a radio being operated in a trailing aircraft.
By the 1970s, American forces were using drones to conduct reconnaissance missions, detect missiles and drop propaganda leaflets in North Vietnam. By 2002, American forces were using Predator drones in Afghanistan to kill selected targets.
And, in 2007, the use of drones trickled down from military utilization to local law enforcement. Here, police in the State of Washington used a drone to locate, and eventually capture, a man accused of sexually assaulting a child.
By 2013, sales in the United States for non-military drones was anticipated to be almost $10 billion over the next decade.
HOW DRONES ARE BEING USED
As drone technology continues to evolve, there will unquestionably be more of those little robots floating through our skies. Currently, the most popular usage of drones (outside of the military) is 3D mapping, farming, weather detection, wildlife monitoring, search and rescue, and law enforcement.
And, of course, criminals are using drones for all types of nefarious activities, such as stealing personal information from above, smuggling drugs, illicit photographs and assaults.
LAW ENFORCEMENT AND DRONES
Since 2016, the amount of drones being used by law enforcement has doubled. Wisconsin, California and Texas are the states that have the most public safety agencies utilizing drones.
Police are using the technology to take aerial photographs of car accident scenes, to search for missing persons and murder suspects. One area where drones are particularly helpful is during a mass shooting. Utilizing the drone’s birds-eye view, police can track the movement of every single person involved in the tragedy. This way, cops will know where to deploy appropriate personnel and resources during and after the incident.
One drawback of drones is the issue of privacy. On one hand, it is extremely helpful to have a sharp aerial view of the world. But, on the other hand, critics are quick to point out that these drones should only be used for specific reasons, as opposed to a general spying on people.
And, in that regard, most police departments wholeheartedly agree that the drones shall only be used for emergency purposes.
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An aerial view will enable police to pinpoint the locations of the shooter, victims and escape routes. From that vantage point, law enforcement will be able to assess the scope of the situation and deploy officers accordingly.
Crime and Traffic Accident Scene Analysis
Photographing crime and accident scenes from an overhead angle greatly reduces the amount of time needed to capture the entire scene from the ground, using multiple angles. Additionally, the aerial view can capture both the scene at large, as well as smaller areas. This will enable the scene to be examined in a more precise manner using a computer as opposed to on the ground in real-time.
Drones will eliminate some of the headaches that go along with stakeouts. The drones can move about and surveil places where a person or fixed camera cannot. Additionally, in large open areas, it is difficult to conduct proper surveillance without being noticed. A drone, however, can conduct this type of operation with ease.
Large events like concerts and sporting events require a lot of manpower in order to ensure safety. But, with a drone, police can quickly assess a large area and send assistance where needed. Areas that are quiet and not a security concern can be left unmanned with just a drone overhead acting as watchful eye. This way, the areas that truly require personnel will be adequately staffed.
Although bombs are generally diffused by ground-based robots, an aerial view of the situation enables police to assess the whole location prior to sending in people and robots. A full threat assessment can be conducted in the air, thereby eliminating the potential for loss of life and property.
Drones will continue to grow in popularity and usage. And with that, the government will assess how to maintain freedom of use while curtailing any intention of using drones for criminal activities. Laws surrounding drones are essentially in their infancy. It is going to be very interesting to see how much of future will be impacted by drones. What is your biggest concern regarding drones?
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