Las Vegas sheriff plans drone fleet as immediate responders to gun violence

Las Vegas sheriff drone

The payloads carried by UAVs are as diverse in application as they are varied in size. But arguably nothing quite as weighty has yet been loaded onto drones as the responsibility the next sheriff of Las Vegas wants to give them in aiding police battle the city’s violent crimes.

Sheriff-elect Kevin McMahill said in a speech last week that he’s planning on deploying 400 drones around Las Vegas to serve as immediate response assets to gun violence. The idea, McMahill said, is to establish a network of bases from which automated UAVs will power on and fly to areas where shots ring out to record data and pinpoint the trouble ­– and, even more critically, better inform police officers rushing to the dangerous scene.

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The plan is built around 11 different hot spots across the Las Vegas Valley where fully 75% of local crimes occur, according to a police department analysis. After he officially becomes sheriff in January, McMahill intends to position scores of drones around those problem areas and link them to ShotSpotter sensor networks that detect and alert police to gunfire.

Under McMahill’s scheme, however, the ShotSpotter platform will also set the UAVs flying toward localities where shots occurred to record footage of ongoing activity, and provide arriving cops with better awareness of what’s happening, and where.

“We’re taking 400 drones that are pre-positioned out in these neighborhoods, on top of businesses,” McMahill said in a breakfast speech organized by a local real estate development association, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. “When the gunshot detection technology goes off, it’ll triangulate, it’ll give the GPS coordinates to the local drone. The drone will be overhead within 30 seconds.”

McMahill said the drones will be able to immediately start recording evidence if violent crimes are under way in Las Vegas, or keep tabs of possible suspects’ movements. That, it is hoped, will give police officers better situational awareness that will reduce the risks of being shot when they arrive, and provide invaluable assistance to understaffed forces.

“For the first time in our agency history, we’re going to be able to keep more officers safe, reduce officer-involved shootings and find more suspects than we ever have, quite frankly,” McMahill said.

The initiative is likely to encounter similar opposition to deployment of tech-based law enforcement assets that has arisen in other cities around the US and the world. Privacy rights have often been the main worry in such pushback, but there are also concerns about recurrent errors in facial recognition and license plate reading systems that have at times fingered innocent people as law breakers. 

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The sheriff-elect is unperturbed by such qualms, and argues drone and other tech deployment by authorities in Las Vegas will help reduce the most dangerous forms of lawlessness now plaguing Sin City.

“I believe we’re going to get to a place where you can’t commit a serious violent crime in our town without being caught,” he said.

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