Drone Police Are Now Real And Your City Could Be Next

By Douglas Helm | Updated

In today’s dystopian news, drone police are becoming more popular, and they could be headed to your city next. In an extensive investigation, Wired looked into the current police usage of drones, primarily in the Chula Vista Police Department in California, where the technology has been heavily used since 2018.

In recent years, police departments in New Orleans, Georgia, and other cities in California have launched drone programs, and the New York Police Department recently announced that it will use drones to respond to gunshot alerts.

Police Drones Are Already Controversial

Amazon drone

This growing presence of drone police seems to be a trend despite the numerous concerns that have been brought up in the areas where they’re already being used. Privacy issues, over-policing of low-income and unhoused communities, and lack of transparency are just some of the concerns voiced against the current drone programs. The accuracy of the drone’s responses to what they deem “threats” has also been called into question.

Drones Respond To 911 Calls

drone light show

The investigation into the spread of drone police opens with an anecdote of a drone responding to a 911 call of a man and his girlfriend arguing. The drone crossed numerous blocks of airspace, recorded the incident, and sent a police officer to the man’s location, where he was then frisked by the officer. The man, Daniel Posada, would later recount the story to Wired and note that there was no physical altercation, the argument wasn’t that serious, and it wasn’t the first time he had been targeted by these drones.

The First City To Start A Drone Program

There are numerous examples of stories where residents of Chula Vista are wary of the drone police, but many residents of the more suburban east side of the city who were interviewed support the program.

The city of Chula Vista was the first to launch a Drone as First Responder (DFR) program in 2018, and the investigation reports that they have been used nearly 20,000 times since then. While the department itself reports the drones as useful tools to decrease response times and save lives, the investigation reveals there’s more nuance to the story.

Privacy Issues Over Drone Footage

As mentioned, the drone police fly over poorer and unhoused residents far more than any other part of the city. Also, residents have reported distress over the program, with some saying they feel constantly watched and one even reporting an emergency visit for severe depression and exhaustion due to the drones harassing him. Of course, the concerns of privacy from what the drones record have also led to legal disputes over the use of the technology.

Flight Log Discrepancies

killer drone

While the Chula Police Department says that the drone police don’t conduct random surveillance, there are some discrepancies that Wired points out in its investigation. For instance, one in 10 drone flights in the transparency portal provided by the department are linked to 911 calls, with the non-911 flights listed as “unknown problems.” Though the transparency portal does provide some data about the drone flights, Chula Vista doesn’t provide most of the drone footage to the public.

A Lot Of Legal Wrangling Needs To Be Figured Out

drones shotguns feature

Newspaper publisher Art Castanares has taken the issue of getting the police drone footage to court, eventually winning in appeals court with the court concluding “the city cannot categorically withhold drone footage as a matter of policy.” The ruling became a statewide precedent, and another trial court will determine which videos must be released to the public. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out, especially as drone police usage becomes more widespread.

Source: Wired

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