Grambling State University, a historically Black college in northern Louisiana, has announced that it is starting drone patrols on the campus. According to Police Chief Rod Demery, security drones will help his department get a better view of the events on campus.
Demery told local media Tuesday he expects drones to help out a lot:
Identification. Following people that should maybe not be here. It’s not necessarily the sole purpose of a drone to do any one thing. It’s to aid in what we are doing. If we are doing some sort of surveillance crowd control. It’s just another tool in our toolbox. A lot of police departments are going that way.
Demery is not wrong. The use of drones on US college campuses is definitely on the rise.
While most universities use drones for academics and research and have designated special areas on the premises for drone flying, San Francisco-based nonprofit digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation has identified at least 10 campus police departments that deploy drones for security and surveillance purposes. These include:
- California State Monterey University Police Department
- Colorado State University Police Department
- Cuyahoga Community College Police Department
- Lehigh University Police Department
- New Mexico State University Police Department
- Northwest Florida State College Campus Police Department
- Pennsylvania State University Police Department
- University of Alabama, Huntsville Police Department
- University of Arkansas, Fort Smith Police Department
- University of North Dakota Police Department
Privacy advocates are naturally concerned about educational institutions acquiring surveillance tech typically associated with high-crime metropolitan areas. Axon, the company that invented Taser stun guns, faced massive backlash from both the public and its own ethics board recently when it proposed to install Taser-equipped drones in schools as a way of deterring gun violence on campus.
Campus police officers, however, stress that situational awareness is important for first responders, and surveillance drones can make a huge difference in their operations. The University of Alabama in Huntsville, for example, cited the tragedy of the Sandy Hook massacre as the catalyst behind security drone adoption in 2013.
“We just want to be able to make a difference and we want to make a difference quickly and come up with something to help law enforcement,” Gary Maddux, who leads the university’s Systems Management and Production Center, said. “That’s what it’s all about – improving response times so maybe we could mitigate the next tragedy that could occur.”
And then there’s the cost associated with drone use which is lowering every year while the tech stack continually improves. As Eric Plummer, Chief of Police at Radford University, explained in an interview with University Business magazine, “Until drones came along, institutions would have had to invest in helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft to have aerial support, and both are expensive to operate and maintain.”
Ultimately, it’s Grambling’s Demery who has the final word when he said, “We are keeping up with policing and how it is changing. It is a new day and policing is a serious matter.”