It goes without saying that law enforcement across the globe has its work cut out for them. Trying to enforce a COVID-19 quarantine, a stay-in-place or a stay-at-home order can be taxing on an already overwhelmed police force. So, officials are trying to use everything in their arsenal in hopes that it will curtail those who aren’t taking the coronavirus as seriously as they should.
One of the things being used by multiple countries is drones. China was the first to employ drones in efforts to keep people indoors. Their lockdown started back in January and since then, police have been using technology to find and scold those who have taken it upon themselves to go rogue. The drones are equipped with speakers and cameras that allow police to see their citizens.
As far as we’ve been shown, these drones have only sent out warnings, telling the lawbreakers they need to take better precautions against COVID-19. Here’s an example in a video released by the Chinese government…
The drone hovers near an elderly lady, telling her that a breathing mask needs to be worn for her protection. “Yes auntie, this drone is speaking to you. You shouldn’t walk about without wearing a mask. You’d better go home, and don’t forget to wash your hands.” the voice was translated into a report by China’s state-owned Global Times. It then told her to “Return home immediately.”
Drones in China have also been used to break up unlawful social gatherings. In another video, pulled from Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, by Reuters, the drone is telling the group if they wish to play mahjong, to do it indoors. “Playing mahjong outside is banned during the epidemic. You have been spotted,” You can hear authorities talking to the group through the loudspeaker. “Stop playing and leave the site as soon as possible.”
In Spain, it is much the same. They announced a state of emergency on March 13 and a couple of days later speaker equipped drones were out yelling at those who were breaking the rules. This video was posted on the BBC News (World) twitter page:
In France, police are using their latest drone technology to keep people inside. They have also gone one step further by employing helicopters. Police helicopters have been seen all around France, mainly in big cities such as Paris, around the Eifel Tower and parks, making sure their citizens are out only for essential reasons. “A reminder of the instructions relating to the Covid-19 epidemic: all travel outside the home is prohibited unless exempted. Please respect a safety distance of at least one meter between each person,” the drone is on repeat as it flies the skies around France.
Back in the United States, police departments are also beginning to use this technology. In California, the Chula Vista police department spent $22,000 on two drones to help with their effort in upholding the stay-at-home order Gov. Gavin Newsome ordered on March 19, 2020.
One of Chula Vista’s police captain’s, Vern Sallee said via the Financial Times, “We have not traditionally mounted speakers to our drones, but . . . if we need to cover a large area to get an announcement out, or if there were a crowd somewhere that we needed to disperse — we could do it without getting police officers involved.” Sallee also added, “The outbreak has changed my view of expanding the program as rapidly as I can.” The drones, made by the Chinese company DJI, were recently called a threat to U.S. security by U.S. officials a mere few weeks ago but now could play a vital role in the combat of COVID-19.
Chief executive of Impossible Aerospace, Spencer Gore, a California-based maker of high-performance drones says his company is “working like crazy” to help a variety of other US law enforcement agencies set up their own drone programs. His pitch is simple, his company uses materials that are “Made in the USA.”
But he did echo how other countries have been using this technology, “What we saw in China, and what we’re probably going to see around the world, is using drones with cameras and loudspeakers to fly around to see if people are gathering where they shouldn’t be, and telling them to go home,” Gore said. “It seems a little Orwellian, but this could save lives.”
As we move further and further into the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t be surprised if you find yourself out and about, when you shouldn’t be, to hear voices from the sky admonishing you. Stay safe and healthy.