BROOKHAVEN, Ga. (AP) — Drones will be used to respond to 911 calls in one Georgia city, with Brookhaven becoming the first in the Southeast to adopt a first responder program using the devices.
City officials have approved funding for the Brookhaven Police Department's Unmanned Aerial System unit, which will consist of four drones. Brookhaven plans to train and obtain FAA licenses for 12 operators.
Each drone is equipped with a camera that records and streams HD video to the department’s crime center, where an officer can relay information to police on the ground. The drones are also capable of thermal imaging, which can spot suspects at night.
“It takes a lot of the hide-and-seek aspect out of hide-and-seek,” said Lt. Abrem Ayana at Tuesday's City Council meeting. “We’re going to see a lot more suspects identified in crimes because a drone is going to get there first and provide information.”
Police will be able to deploy them to witness crimes in progress, document crime scenes or provide an overhead view for officers on the ground.
Brookhaven police said the project will give its officers more flexibility, availability and information, while limiting in-person contact during the coronavirus pandemic, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“It’s literally a game changer,” Ayana said.
Ayana said Brookhaven will become the first city outside of California to adopt the program. Chula Vista Police Department started using drones in 2018, and it has credited the program with more than 275 arrests and 650 calls for service that ended up not needing an officer’s presence, Ayana said.
Brookhaven estimates a drone response costs roughly 10% of what it would cost for dispatching an officer and patrol vehicle. Police said drones can respond much quicker, since they can bypass traffic. Ayana said drones will have access to about 70% of the city due to Federal Aviation Agency restrictions at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.
The unit’s creation will cost the city roughly $83,700 in its first year and about $22,600 in annual recurring costs. The city will pay for the project using coronavirus relief funds, saying that the drones will decrease human interaction, potentially limiting the spread of the virus. The city said the drone unit is not expected to be operational until next year.
Other city police departments use drones during potentially dangerous standoffs to gather information. But, Brookhaven's program will expand the number of situations in which drones are used, including first-time 911 calls and real-time emergency responses.
All drone footage will be stored in the same manner as bodycam and dashcam videos and will be available to the public through the Georgia Open Records Act. Drone video can also be filed as evidence.