Redmond police are using drones to respond to 911 calls

REDMOND, Wash. — The Redmond Police Department has been using a drone to respond to some 911 calls since April. It’s part of the department’s Drone As A First Responder pilot program.

“Our drone responds to 911 calls or emergency calls for service along with ground units,” Police Chief, Darrell Lowe, said. “We are able to have eyes on a call for service in three minutes or less with a commissioned police officer as the pilot providing us real time information and providing that information to ground units.”

The drone the department has can fly for about 30 to 40 minutes and can typically respond to scenes within about three minutes.

“We’ve been able to arrive 88 percent of the time before our ground units and we’ve been able to cancel the ground response in 18 percent of those calls,” Lowe said.

He also explained that this doesn’t impact response times because ground units and the drone are dispatched at the same time, but the drone typically beats the ground unit, which he says allows them to potentially free up officers for other calls. In one instance, he said a call came in for a burglary in progress, but it turns out someone had locked their keys in their car.

“The air unit was able to get there in less than two minutes observed the person trying to get into the car they were able to communicate that with the ground units to deescalate and slow down that response so the officer knew this was not someone trying to break into a car,” he said.

Lowe also explained that he understands privacy concerns, but the drone isn’t capturing images when it is flying to or from a location.

“We’re not using this for random patrols it is call response specific, so we only fly when we are going to a call,” he said.

Sergeant Steve Lincoln said the drone came in handy catching suspects when officers were responding to a carjacking a couple of weeks ago.

“We were basically able to take a snapshot and send it out to patrol right away and we had them identified as they were fleeing from us,” Lincoln said.

The department plans to expand the program and grow the fleet to three drones, with capabilities for two-way communication and to deliver emergency supplies.

“So, it could be an AED, it could be an EpiPen, it could be Narcan, so that is coming in the very near future as is two-way communication,” Lowe said.

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