How Dallas Police plan to deploy new aerial drones
Dallas police on Thursday used the new technology in the search for an 11-year-old boy in the Mountain Creek area.
Hojun ChoiThursday marked the department’s formal introduction of its new drone unit. The five-person team will use aerial drones in search-and-rescue missions, for de-escalation tactics and in building searches, said Dallas Police Sgt. Ross Stinson. The unit was
Dallas police started research and planning for an aerial drone unit in 2015. Drone pilots in the unit have received proper Federal Aviation Administration training, and the department will use several different types of drones, depending on the situation.Read more: Dallas Morning News »
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Dallas police used the technology in the search for a missing 11-year-old boy in the Mountain Creek area. A drone in Dallas Police Department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Dallas Police Headquarters on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, in Dallas, TX. (Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer) Hojun Choi 7:00 AM on Jan 21, 2022 CST Dallas police are now among a growing number of law enforcement agencies using aerial drones as part of their operations, but advocates say more oversight is needed to protect residents’ rights. Thursday marked the department’s formal introduction of its new drone unit. The five-person team will use aerial drones in search-and-rescue missions, for de-escalation tactics and in building searches, said Dallas Police Sgt. Ross Stinson. The unit was deployed during search efforts for an 11-year-old boy reported missing Thursday in Mountain Creek just south of Grand Prairie. Dallas police started research and planning for an aerial drone unit in 2015. Drone pilots in the unit have received proper Federal Aviation Administration training, and the department will use several different types of drones, depending on the situation. In September, the department deployed drones to assist Dallas-Fire Rescue at the scene of an , Stinson said. Concerns over aerial drones About a dozen North Texas law enforcement agencies have already implemented aerial drones in various operations, according to the Atlas of Surveillance project, which has been documenting the adoption of different technologies, including aerial drones, by police. Their uses vary from department to department. In 2020, for example, Fort Worth police started using drones to enforce COVID-19 protocols among homeless populations. Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said more needs to be done to inform residents about how new surveillance technologies, such as drones, will be used by law enforcement. The nonprofit focuses on protecting personal freedoms online and in the digital world. “We’re a firm believer that the residents of a city should have a choice,” he said, adding that they “should be able to have a say on exactly what the use policy should be before police departments are able to buy drones.” Guariglia said the organization is monitoring different ways that police departments implement drones into their operations. “For some reason, departments are on this big kick where they want to buy drones now, and they’re getting all sorts of funds to purchase the drones,” he said. Stinson told The Dallas Morning News that the drones showcased Thursday were bought with department money and donations but added that Dallas police are looking for other funding, such as through grants. Specific figures were not provided. COVID-19 relief money was not used to fund the unit, according to the department. Currently, all 18 of the drones that Dallas police use were from DJI, a . ‘More surveillance’ Another point of concern, Guariglia said, is a lack of security for data collected through new surveillance technologies. Dallas police in November said it was investigating how hundreds of hours of aerial surveillance footage was hacked after a nonprofit that specializes in news leaks revealed the breach. During a news conference, Dallas Police Major Mark Villarreal said drone footage that is not used in investigations will be deleted after 90 days. Villarreal said the unit would require a warrant to use aerial drones for searches and targeted surveillance. “The [Unmanned Aircraft Systems] program will not conduct flights for the sole purpose of mass surveillance,” Villarreal said. Drones have the ability to record footage, and police will not require a warrant to record on flights while “assisting with warrant service, life or death situations and during felony offenses,” the department said in an email. Surveillance drones will not be used to generate probable cause for a warrant, the department added. Tiara Cooper, the lead organizer for In Defense of Black Lives Dallas, said Dallas police had not reached out to any members of the coalition to discuss concerns or issues related to drone surveillance. The group advocates for defunding police and reinvesting money toward programs to enhance community safety. Although she said she thinks drones could be helpful in certain situations, such as search and rescue, Cooper stressed that the use of drones for surveillance is highly problematic. “Machines can’t understand nor de-escalate, nor really assess the issue at hand,” she said. “And we really don’t need more surveillance; we need community solutions.”