DroneSense Blog

DFR: Transformational Technology Ushering in a New Era

In the United States, approximately 18,000 agencies across tribal, local, state and federal levels employ roughly 795,000 law enforcement officers and agents.

Over the past two decades the number of positions for law enforcement officers has grown slightly, but has not kept up with the population numbers, resulting in a declining ratio of officers to the population they serve and protect.

Making matters worse is the increasing average age of officers, a retirement age that has been getting lower and lower, and lately the impact of the “great resignation” (as documented in a survey on police workforce trends from June 2021 by the Police Executive Research Forum).

This has left many agencies around the country struggling to fill open positions and getting enough officers into the field to serve a growing number of citizens.

Agencies around the country have turned to technology to help them become more efficient, safer, and incidentally more attractive to a newer generation of law enforcement officers.

Ground robots (used with remote controlled devices) have seen use in bomb disposal units for a long time. And their flying equivalent, drones or UAVs/UASs have already demonstrated they can be a valuable tool that can help save lives. After all, airplanes and helicopters have been successfully used by law enforcement agencies as their “eye in the sky” for decades.

While only the top 10% of the nation’s law enforcement agencies have the budgets to support crewed airborne programs, both fixed wing and helicopters, the operational cost has presented a significant barrier to entry for the majority of agencies.

Why Drone Usage is Gaining Mass Adoption in Public Safety

Operating costs for drones are significantly lower than those associated with crewed flight programs in public safety. Budgets are a lot easier to find, especially once the program has proven its worth. And often, neighboring agencies that collaborate frequently join their budgets to help with larger purchases as their programs grow and their needs change.

From finding missing persons, search and rescue missions, to disaster situations, drone usage in public safety is increasing and the results are speaking for themselves.

What once were drone projects, often started in their spare time by officers that were considered “drone nerds” for their pioneering activities, has grown into mature public safety drone programs that have been fully integrated into police activities and procedures.

Professional software like DroneSense supports the needs of public safety professionals and demonstrates how the usage of drones can dramatically improve situational awareness and turn drones into a force multiplier for law enforcement.

Remote Pilot in Control (RPIC)
Remote Pilot in Command setting up drone. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Police Dept.

Taking Drone Programs to the Next Level with Drone as First Responder

The City of Chula Vista, California started their drone program in the summer of 2017, supporting tactical operations of their first responders. As the program matured, drone usage increased and with strong community support, Chula Vista PD took their drone program to the next level. In October of 2018, they began launching drones directly from the rooftop of the police headquarters in response to 9-1-1 calls and other incident reports.

Many other agencies, from San Antonio PD (the seventh largest city in the United States) to Forsyth County in North Carolina have since followed suit and started dispatching drones just as they would with officers in patrol cars. Video feeds from those drones are live-streamed into a command center, where an officer can remotely control the drone and cameras, relaying critical information back to officers on the ground or in route.

“Drone as First Responder” (DFR) programs are an innovative and transformational approach to policing, and have clearly demonstrated their efficiency and ability to increase officer safety and that of the community at large.

With the evolution of drone use in public safety, the DroneSense software has evolved to support the unique needs of law enforcement and Drone as First Responder applications. DroneSense Remote, our DFR software platform, expands the capabilities of the popular DroneSense software, adding support for a remote operator, call for service functionality and logging, as well as many other features that contribute to safe and successful DFR operations, paving the way for the future of law enforcement.

Remote Operator in a Command Center
Remote Operator in the command center. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Police Dept.

Drones, not bound by roads or impacted by traffic, typically arrive on scene in 2 minutes or less – often much faster than a police vehicle. Their cameras and sensors (like thermal cameras) offer a unique vantage point that can provide officers with valuable information and an enhanced level of situational awareness. From being able to detect a potential ambush, to positively identifying a weapon, drones collect this information without putting officers in harm’s way. This information is vital to remove ambiguity, potentially de-escalate a situation, or change a tactical approach, all of which ultimately can lead to a positive resolution.

DroneSense Remote User Interface

While communities are increasingly embracing modern technology to help keep them safe and improve outcomes with police involvement, it’s no surprise that more and more law enforcement agencies are evaluating Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs.

DroneSense Remote has quickly become the leading software platform to support agencies of all sizes with their Drone as First Responder programs, helping address some of the challenges law enforcement agencies are facing today.