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North Carolina police department using drones to crack down on homeless drug use and trespassing after mass resignations
Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

North Carolina police department using drones to crack down on homeless drug use and trespassing after mass resignations

A police department in Asheville, North Carolina, has ramped up its use of police drones to fill in staffing gaps and monitor crimes committed by homeless people.

The crimes, particularly drug use and trespassing, have reportedly caused outcry in the local community, with complaints from business owners.

Local residents have reportedly asked the city of approximately 100,000 to address downtown crime and homelessness, according to WLOS ABC 13.

Asheville Police Chief David Zack told city council members that business owners want homeless people who are panhandling, using drugs, and camping to be held accountable and cited for their crimes.

With tourism down an estimated 11% in 2023, police are now using drones to crack down on the aforementioned crimes.

There are 15 police employees who have gained certification to fly drones while on duty, with the department owning six of the aerial vehicles. Employees take a 40-hour class at a nearby community college for just over $200. An additional eight hours of training is done, according to WUNC radio.

"We had one of the highest percentages of loss in the country when it came to police officer resignations," said Brandon Moore, captain of the Asheville police special services division.

The department built a drone unit as a "force multiplier" due to losing more than one-third of a reported 238 officers.

"We needed something that could help tip the scale and quickly. Our hiring process is not quick. Replenishing officers is a slow, methodical thing," Moore added.

In 2020, chief Zack attributed the police resignations to a lack of support and what he described as a "very vocal" opposition to law enforcement.

The reaction was said to be in response to a black man dying while in police custody in Minnesota, which at the time caused a 13% drop in police numbers in Asheville.

A spokesperson from Asheville Police reportedly said that the department has received positive feedback from local businesses after implementing its drone program.

A homeless woman named Monica questioned why the punishment for panhandling would be a fine when "it's begging for money to start with."

Eric Tars, legal director for the National Homelessness Law Center, said that ticketing homeless people is "prolonging the problem of encampments."

Instead, Tars claimed, it should be looked at as a federal problem. "Homelessness started when the federal HUD budget was cut in half," the legal activist said.

"City leaders are getting the blame for what’s really a federal problem." He added that local jurisdictions are "getting blamed for the lack of federal leadership."

According to Asheville PD's data, 64% of emergency calls for police in the city happened within the same three miles of a particular municipal building. At the same time, 44% happened within two miles.

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