Metropolitan Police Department (DC Police / MPD)

DC police to use drones plus more cameras and license-plate readers

MPD’s air fleet now includes five drones. Chief of Police Pamela Smith said the drones will not be used for patrol operations but will be used in situations including barricades, crowd management, missing persons cases and major crash reconstruction

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D.C. will soon have more eyes in the sky.

The Metropolitan Police Department will start using drones in limited situations to try to protect residents from violent crime. It comes as Mayor Muriel Bowser adds hundreds of closed-circuit TV cameras and license plate readers.

Taking off from its base near the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, Falcon 1 is ready for action. MPD unveiled the $6 million chopper at a press event Monday. The pilot called the helicopter a “game changer” because of its mapping technology and infrared cameras, which can help during car chases.

MPD’s air fleet now includes five drones. Chief of Police Pamela Smith said the drones will not be used for patrol operations but will be used in situations including barricades, crowd management, missing persons cases and major crash reconstruction.

“We will not be using artificial intelligence, and nor will we be using facial recognition with the drones yet,” she said.

Bowser said D.C.’s newly approved budget includes funding for 200 new CC TV cameras and nearly 50 more license-plate readers, which will be added over the next year.

In the past year, a D.C. helicopter assisted with 76 arrests, including for carjackings, shootings and homicides, the mayor said.

The ACLU’s executive director in D.C. raised some red flags about the plan for drones.

"The growing use of surveillance technology by law enforcement agencies without limits, transparency, and accountability is deeply concerning. Drones are a powerful and novel surveillance technology, and the District's police drone expansion simply does not have sufficient guardrails to ensure our privacy and security,” Monica Hopkins said in a statement, in part.

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