Denver cops to use DRONES as 'first responders' to 911 calls as police budget slashed

"The long-term scope of what we are trying to do is drones as first responders."

Jarryd Jaeger Vancouver, BC

The Denver Police Department has announced a new program that will see drones deployed to certain 911 calls in place of officers. Similar initiatives have been launched in other counties across Colorado with promising results.

The move, which is expected to cost upwards of $1.5 million, comes just weeks after Denver's progressive city council moved forward with plans to slash the department's budget by $8.4 million to help pay for the unprecedented influx of illegal immigrants flooding into the area.

"The Drone as a First Responder Program utilizes [drones] to respond to calls for service before officers arrive on scene in order to develop a better understanding of the situation on the ground," the department wrote in its Operations Manual, noting that the technology could be used to detect "potential unanticipated hazards to officers and public such as firearms or other weapons," or "the need for special capabilities or equipment."

The document explained that, "this increased situational awareness allows the department to better allocate personnel and resources to incident scenes," and, "allows the department to better anticipate potential challenges such as the presence of weapons or individuals in crisis and tailor the response appropriately to avoid unnecessary escalation."

The program has been launched via a $100,000 grant from the Denver Police Foundation, and drones are expected to be in the air within 12 months.

While the use of drones for those purposes is still a ways away, Strategic Initiatives Bureau Director Phil Gonshak told the Denver Post that, "it's beginning to lift off," noting that a number of members on the force are already licensed to fly.

"The long-term scope of what we are trying to do is drones as first responders," he explained. "Basically, having stations on top of each one of our districts so we can respond with drones to critical needs or emergencies that arise throughout the city."

He suggested that the technology would help reduce the time it takes the department to respond to calls for help, but emphasized that drones should not be seen as coming in to take the place of real people.

"We would never simply replace calls-for-service response by police officers," he said. "The DPD would respond to any call for service where someone is physically requesting a police officer on scene, but if there was a fight at Colfax and Cherokee and we put a drone in the air and there is no fight and nothing causing traffic issues, then we would reroute our police officers to other emergent calls."

Just to the south of Denver, Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office drone unit leader Sgt. Jeremiah Gates said the technology "really is the future of law enforcement at some point, whether we like it or not."

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