drone flying over range

Drone as First Responder Programs: A New Paradigm in Policing

By Steve King, Ph.D. , Shay Major , Marlis McCollum

Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs have introduced a new paradigm in public safety. There are many reported benefits and challenges with these novel initiatives. As more police departments consider implementing DFR programs, we need to understand the potential impacts.

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In response to a 911 call, a trained police officer dispatches a drone to the scene of an emergency as patrol cars are en route. It arrives within minutes—ahead of the responding officers. Using its video cameras, the drone provides situational awareness to the remote pilot, who relays the information to responding patrol units on the ground, providing vital intelligence for informed decisions.

This scenario unfolds many times a day at select police departments across the country. These police departments employ what’s known as Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs, which have introduced a new paradigm in public safety.

There are many reported benefits to these programs—from reduced response time to improved safety for both police and the community. But there are also various challenges, not the least of which is societal acceptance.

As more and more police departments in the United States— and the world—consider implementing DFR programs, we need to take an informed look at their benefits, barriers to success, lessons learned, best practices, and coming changes—in the technology, plans for its use, and its potential impact on the public.

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