The Denver Police Department has launched a new program that will include the use of drones as a tool to help officers respond to 911 calls.

The law enforcement agency that was recently defunded by millions to pay for migrants is now launching its own drone program, along with other Colorado police departments. 

Robert White, the former chief of The Denver Police Department originally disagreed with the use of drones in 2013 and in 2018, and the agency’s only drone was shelved. 

Now, the department is planning on using a $100,000 grant from the Denver Police Foundation to start the program. Denver police plan to buy several drones with that money, and begin their drone program within six to 12 months. 

‘We would never simply replace calls-for-service response by police officers,’ Phil Gonshak, director of the department’s Strategic Initiatives Bureau told The Denver Post.

The Denver Police Department has launched a new program that will see the use of drones introduced to help officers respond to calls. In some instances, a drone may be deployed to verify reports made to 911 or assess their severity

The Denver Police Department has launched a new program that will see the use of drones introduced to help officers respond to calls. In some instances, a drone may be deployed to verify reports made to 911 or assess their severity  

‘The DPD would respond to any call for service where someone is physically requesting a police officer on scene. But if there was a fight at Colfax and Cherokee and we put a drone in the air and there is no fight and nothing causing traffic issues, then we would reroute our police officers to other emergent calls.’

‘It’s beginning to lift off,’ Gonshak said. 

‘The long-term scope of what we are trying to do is drones as first responders,’ he added. 

‘Basically, having stations on top of each one of our districts so we can respond with drones to critical needs or emergencies that arise throughout the city.’

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, based in Centennial, Colorado, has been using the robotic flying devices since 2017. 

‘This really is the future of law enforcement at some point, whether we like it or not,’  Sgt. Jeremiah Gates, who leads the drone unit at the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, said. 

Robert White, the former of The Denver Police Department originally disagreed with the use of drones in 2013 and in 2018, the agency's only drone was shelved

Robert White, the former of The Denver Police Department originally disagreed with the use of drones in 2013 and in 2018, the agency’s only drone was shelved

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office has 14 pilots that have used 20 drones to conduct tasks, including tracking fleeing suspects, searching for missing people, providing overhead surveillance during SWAT operations, and mapping crash or crime scenes. 

Gates said that the department is now considering using its drones to respond ahead of officers and in some rare instances, instead of them attending at all.  

If a drone is deployed before an officer responds to a call, it could map out the area and send live streamed video footage back to the cop before they arrive. 

In the case that a drone is flown to the scene of a 911 call, the device will be able to determine the severity of the call to inform officers if they need to respond. 

‘I could fly the drone over (a reported suspicious vehicle) and say, “Hey, that vehicle is not out of place,” and I never had to send an officer over to bother them and I can clear it with that,’ Gates said. ‘It’s saving resources.’ 

The Arapahoe County Sheriff¿s Office, based in Centennial, Colorado, has been using the robotic flying devices since 2017. (pictured: officers testing out a drone)

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, based in Centennial, Colorado, has been using the robotic flying devices since 2017. (pictured: officers testing out a drone) 

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office is still in the ‘very early stages’ as they have to consider the cost, public opinion, and determine what kind of equipment will be needed to operate the drones for emergency calls. 

Gates said that the flying devices could also be used to respond to traffic light outages by sending a live video to officers.

He added that the remote devices would get to emergency scenes faster than a cop would as they won’t have to deal with traffic congestion in the area. 

Gates told The Denver Post: ‘What if we get a call about someone with a gun, and the drone is able to get overhead and see it’s not a gun before law enforcement ever contacts them?’

The Arapahoe County Sheriff¿s Office has 14 pilots that have used 20 drones to conduct tasks, including tracking fleeing suspects, searching for missing people and providing overhead surveillance during SWAT operations

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office has 14 pilots that have used 20 drones to conduct tasks, including tracking fleeing suspects, searching for missing people and providing overhead surveillance during SWAT operations

While Gates is for the use of drones, American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado staff attorney Laura Moraff, is worried that law enforcement agencies using drones could impact people’s rights. 

‘We’re worried about what it would mean if drones were really just all over the skies in Colorado,’ Moraff said.

‘We are worried about what that would mean for First Amendment activities, for speech and organizing and protesting — because being surveilled by law enforcement, including by drones, can change the way people speak and protest.’

Moraff also expressed concern that the deployment of drones could result in ‘more over-policing’. 

‘We know there is a problem with people reporting Black people doing normal everyday things as if there is something suspicious going on,’ she said. 

‘So sending out a drone for any time there is a 911 call, it could be dangerous and lead to more over-policing of communities of color. 

‘There is also just the risk that the more that we normalize having drones in the skies, the more it can really affect behavior on a massive scale, if we are just looking up and seeing drones all over the place, knowing that police are watching us.’ 

Sgt. Jeremiah Gates said that the remote devices would get to emergency scenes faster than a cop would as they won't have to deal with congested traffic in the area

Sgt. Jeremiah Gates said that the remote devices would get to emergency scenes faster than a cop would as they won’t have to deal with congested traffic in the area

Meanwhile, Littleton Police Department only uses drones ‘proactively during large public events to monitor certain areas,’ spokeswoman Sheera Poelman said. 

The Loveland Police Department used a drone to deliver a defibrillator to a patient before paramedics and authorities were able to respond, Sgt. Bryan Bartnes said. 

‘One drawback to it is, obviously, it requires the citizen on scene to apply it and put it on,’ Bartnes said. ‘Drones don’t do that yet.’ 

The largest drone that the Loveland Police Department has can carry up to 16lbs, Bartnes explained.

Ben Birdsell, the Commerce Police Department’s community service officer supervisor said that the agency plans to launch drones for 911 calls within the next year. 

‘What we see out of it is, it’s a lot cheaper than an officer, basically,’ he said. 

Drones have to be flown at a limited range as they have to operate in the line of sight to the pilot, and have to follow the Federal Aviation Administration regulations around flights. 

Drones have be flown at a limited range as they have to operate in the line of site to the pilot, and have to follow the Federal Aviation Administration regulations around flights. (pictured: Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office tests out using a drone in law enforcement)

Drones have be flown at a limited range as they have to operate in the line of site to the pilot, and have to follow the Federal Aviation Administration regulations around flights. (pictured: Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office tests out using a drone in law enforcement) 

White said that kickstarting a drone program for the Denver Police Department would cost about $1.5million to $2million.

The department has already drafted up a ‘Drones as a First Responder Program’ policy and have several trained pilots on the force.

Denver Police spokesman Doug Schepman said that the agency’s SWAT team uses a single drone for limited indoor searches and can use it for emergency response upon approval. 

‘So there is no question about what we are doing, because I know there is concern about us flying drones and peering through windows without search warrants,’ Gonshak said. 

In April, the Denver City Council¿s Finance and Governance Committee approved plans to defund the police as the ongoing migrant crisis has cost city about $89.9million

In April, the Denver City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee approved plans to defund the police as the ongoing migrant crisis has cost city about $89.9million

‘We want to be very public-conscientious in our efforts.’

In April, the Denver City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee approved plans to defund the police as the ongoing migrant crisis has cost the democrat-led city about $89.9million.

The finance committee determined that $41 million in cuts from multiple city departments is needed to house migrants, KDVR reported. 

Following the decision, the department experienced $8.4million budget cuts, including the sheriff’s office which lost $3.8million, and the fire department that lost $2.4million. 

The sanctuary city’s progressive Mayor Mike Johnston unveiled the budget proposal, allocating $89.9million to assist incoming undocumented migrants, who he referred to as ‘newcomers.’

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