NYPD Announces Drone Fleet — Benefits, Privacy Concerns, Certification Requirements and More….
NYPD recently purchased 14 drones to help them in applications such as search and rescue, event monitoring and accident scene reconstruction. NYPD’s fleet includes 11 Mavic Pros, 2 M210 RTKs and an Inspire 1. Predictably, privacy concerns were raised with many objecting to having an eye in the sky. So, are these concerns justified? Are police departments better off relying on traditional technologies? What are the benefits of opting for drone technology? We also share if public safety officers need to procure any certification for flying a drone.
Are Privacy Concerns About Drones Really Justified?
Let’s talk about the privacy concerns first. New York City has been using Microsoft’s Domain Awareness System which provides real time information to the City’s 35,000 police information on their smartphones. This is made possible by 9,000 close circuit cameras and 500 license plate readers. Chicago also uses a similar Situational Awareness system titled Windygrid. With such sophisticated systems already in place, one can’t help but wonder about the hoopla surrounding the purchase of 14 drones.
How Can the Police Department Put Drone Technology to Good Use?
Drones equipped with powerful zoom cameras can prove to be invaluable for monitoring large crowds. Pinpointing unusual activities in large crowds and events is far easier if you have an aerial bird’s eye view. DJI’s Zenmuse Z30 is ideal for these applications.
DJI Z30 provides 30 times optical zoom and 180x digital zoom. Check out these “Before” and “After” images to better understand the terrific capabilities of this camera.
Apart from event monitoring, drones can also be used for –
· Documenting Crime Scenes
· Surveying Disaster Sites
· Tactical Operations
· Search and Rescue
Surprise City, Arizona is currently seeking public input as they consider the buy and use of drones by the City Police. The estimated cost of the program? $65,000. When Chief of Police, Terry Young presented this proposal before the City Council, a Council Member was quick to point that he had overseen a $2.8 million purchase for helicopters — for similar applications nearly 20 years back!
Apart from cost effectiveness, time savings are enormous. Chief Terry Young pointed out that an accident scene which takes a couple of hours to reconstruct using traditional methods like total station can be wrapped up in half an hour using drone mapping.
Part 107 vs. Blanket COA vs. Public COA for Public Safety Officers
Does a public safety officer need certification to fly? Yes, they do. There are different ways of obtaining this necessary permission –
· Part 107
· Blanket COA
· Public COA
In Public COA’s, there is more upfront work involved. For instance, in a Public COA, you need to certify the drones, the pilots and the airspace. There are various maintenance and medical standards that should be met as well. However, following manufacturer guidelines to the T is not advisable. It is recommended to get maintenance Tips from folks with real world flying experience. For instance, you need to change your props every 10 hours. And drone batteries will not last longer than 6 months if you cycle them once a week.
Now let’s talk about the pros. A Public COA gives you more and easier access to the airspace around you. In a Public COA, under Special Government Interest (SGI), you can get instantaneous authorization to fly in an emergency situation. You can also self-certify safety officers. So, if there are officers being transferred in and out continuously, having a Blanket COA can prove to be a practical alternative.
As compared to Public COA, getting your Part 107 involves significantly less upfront work. However, access to airspace is somewhat restricted too. So, you will need a waiver to fly outside of Part 107 rules — which can be a huge deterrent in emergency situations.
Following are the requirements for a government agency that opts for a “Blanket COA” –
· Aircraft should be under 55 pounds
· Fly at or below 400 feet AGL
A sample COA application can be accessed HERE.
Can a Drone Pilot Get Hired by the Police Department?
If you are drone pilot looking to get hired by the City Police, bear in mind that you have an uphill task in front of you. Taking up drone jobs with the police department is a volume based business, and you need to quote a per job price that the government can afford.
Negative public perception is the first challenge that you will have to overcome. For instance, police in many Californian cities resisted using drones for a long time due to negative public perception. However, it is heartening to note that the cities of Chula Vista and San Diego are now using drones powered by a company called CAPE — whose technology allows drones to be flown on autopilot.
We recommend going right to the top and making a pitch. If a senior officer knows about drone technology and its many benefits, you are certainly in luck. If not, you will have to highlight how using drones can help acquire more accurate data — faster and cheaper. Also, be prepared to eventually compete with the police themselves. As the police warm up to the idea of using drones, it is natural for them to set up their own drone team.