Dallas Police increase drones in crime, emergency response

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The Dallas Police Department has said it will be increasing its use of drones in response to certain emergencies and criminal situations, as well as in investigations of open cases.

Dallas police officials said the expanded numbers and deployment of drones are aimed to enhance efficiency of law enforcement responses to crimes and urgent situations, and provide an extra spatial buffer to keeping cops safer. In a video announcement on the move, Dallas Police Deputy Chief of Tactical Operations Division Mike Igo called the increased deployment of drones a beneficial development all around. 

“Implementation of these aircraft systems will provide numerous benefits to the department,” he said. “Using drones will provide critical on-scene information that will lead to keeping officers out of danger, protecting citizens lives, and providing useful information for those units tasked with investigating these crimes.” 

That announcement by Dallas police brass came just three months after the department was embarrassed by a major leak of aerial surveillance footage, nearly 1.9 terabytes of which were published by a transparency advocacy group. Most of that was filmed by police helicopters. Yet the enormous volume of such video – which in some cases recorded people involved in private activities on and around their property – and its breached security alarmed people about the potential privacy ramifications, and inspired criticism of the spreading deployment of drones by police forces around the nation.

To address those concerns in a proactive manner, Igo noted distinct cases in which Dallas police would and would not be using drones in responding. 

The “do” category included search and rescue, disaster response, missing persons, fugitive apprehensions, building investigations, bombs calls and hazardous material observations, dangerous suspects, planned operations, civil unrest violations, and crime scene photography and reconstruction. 

The proscribed cases listed misdemeanors or offenses resulting only in fines, and arbitrary observation flights that could violate a person’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures. Any recordings taken by Dallas police drones on private property will require a warrant in advance, with the exception of life-or-death situations or when a felony is in progress.

Igo also noted Dallas police drone pilots receive training and Federal Aviation Administration certification, as well as instruction on Fourth Amendment protection of individual privacy in using the craft.

No video taken by UAVs outside of procedural and legal boundaries may be kept by law enforcement, Igo added. Footage collected within the stipulated restrictions will kept for a minimum of 90 days, unless it contains evidentiary evidence.

The Dallas Police Department was just one of three municipal organizations around the US to announce increased or new deployment of drones this month. Phoenix said a previously planned rollout of UAVs by its fire department this summer will be followed by its police and parks department doing likewise. The city of Washington, Missouri, said its police and fire services will being sharing use of four drones in emergency responses, primarily for search and rescue missions.

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