A woman in a car was ramming a man on a motorcycle, chasing him down the streets of Chula Vista, California. A police drone flew after them, broadcasting a live video feed to officers’ smartphones.
All officers in the department had been out on other high-priority calls when they received the report of two people fighting — so they deployed their newest emergency response tool. Thanks to the footage from the drone, when officers arrived on scene, they knew exactly where to find the woman and man, and what had happened moments beforehand.
They arrested the woman for assault with a deadly weapon, but also found the man happened to be riding a stolen motorcycle. The theft was unrelated to the incident.
This is how the Chula Vista Police Department has started using drones to respond to calls, as part of a Federal Aviation Administration program. While police departments have already used drones as part of investigations after a crime has occurred, this program sends a drone out ahead of officers while the crime may still be in progress; officers use that footage to decide how to approach the situation.
“It gives someone like myself, the Watch Commander, a front row seat to what’s going on,” said Lt. Christopher Kelly.
In the six months the program has been active, drones have helped Chula Vista police make more than 56 arrests. For comparison, Chula Vista police made 6,027 arrests over the course of last year.
Police say arrests are up since the drone program began in October compared to the same time period last year, but that it’s too early to attribute the change to the drone program.
Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy said the drones had mostly been operating within a limited range of a mile radius around the station, while the whole city is 52 square miles. “That being said, the drone has effectively contributed to several arrests where it arrived on scene first and vectored officers to the suspect,” she said.
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