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The Santa Monica Police Department in California has deployed drones to respond to 911 calls, stating that in 88-90% of situations, the drone is first at the scene ahead of officers, NBC News reported Wednesday.
Peter Lashley, a veteran officer who often operates the department's drone from its police station command center, told the news outlet that the police drone can sometimes arrive at the scene in 30 seconds.
Santa Monica's rollout of the "drones as first responder" program is new and unique. The program initially started in 2018 with the Chula Vista Police Department and has since expanded and been adopted in Beverly Hills, Redondo Beach, and by another dozen departments in the United States.
Lashley called the department's utilization of drones "a fundamental change in the way that we can bring policing services to our city."
Critics have expressed privacy concerns, specifically that the police could use drones to conduct broad surveillance. However, the department stated that it is currently only using drones to respond to 911 calls and not as a random surveillance tool.
"We respond to 911 calls for service," Lashley said. "We don't randomly fly over the city looking for people doing anything wrong."
He added that the aerial technology is still "developing" and "in its infancy."
"It's such a game changer," he continued. "For us, breaking the faith, using it irresponsibly — any benefit that we would get will never outweigh the benefits that it gives us."
Lashley noted that the most significant benefit of using drones is improving "situational awareness" for officers on their way to the scene.
Lashley shared a situation in which the police department received a call that a group of teenagers appeared to be carrying handguns in a shopping area. Using a drone, officers were able to determine that the teens were wielding BB guns.
"The drone got there," he told NBC News. "We identified that, indeed, they had guns, [but] as we watched them, we determined those guns were actually airsoft BB guns. We were able to communicate that. It de-escalated the situation, and it went from a violent felony in progress to … a group of teenagers clowning around."
The drone's camera has helped law enforcement to read license plate numbers, catch evidence of a robbery, and even de-escalate potentially violent scenarios.
"It allows an experienced police officer to see what's going on in real time and communicate those facts to the officers responding and give them that perspective of what to expect, rather than going in with just the information of a phone call," Lashley explained.
Police in Southern California using drones to help with dangerous situationsyoutu.be
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Candace Hathaway is a staff writer for Blaze News.