While you were working: Police drones are getting lift

They may not have Robocop’s dry charm, but drones are taking off as law enforcement’s shiny new sidekick. Armed with artificial intelligence and a direct connection to the cloud, departments nationwide are experimenting with the new tech. According to the Center for the Study of the Drone at New York’s Bard College, the number of public safety agencies with drones hovers around 900.

The Los Angeles Police Department has just one drone, along with eight FAA certified pilots, according to The Atlantic. And while it’s been deployed just six times, policies about its use are quite clear: search and rescue, hostage situations, explosive detection and other high-risk situations. In other words, “this is a tool that comes in peace.”

In Ohio, the transportation department is looking into using drones to monitor traffic, following in the footsteps of these French cops who are using them to catch reckless drivers. And these scientists in the UK say their drones can spot fights just as they break out. In Boston, the police are asking for public input before they spin up their own drone program. “We don’t want to fall down on that slippery slope of infringing people of their civil liberties and their rights,” Boston City Councilor Kim Janey told Government Technology.

If any of those applications pique your interest, keep your eyes on drone-manufacturer DJI and data-company Axon, who are partnering to sell video-enabled drones to law enforcement. Axon already makes body cams and markets cloud video storage via its Evidence.com platform.

Over on the dark side, a new report from the Joint Chiefs of Staff says that the proliferation of drone spy and weapons tech represents a growing threat to the United States. China, Russia, and Iran are manufacturing and exporting lethal drones, according to this article from the Center of Public Integrity.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has just awarded General Atomics a $39.5 million contract to pilot and maintain “combat air patrol” drones in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s the same company that said it expects drones to replace police helicopters by 2025. The MQ Reaper drones won’t be armed, but they will carry electro-optical and infrared cameras.

That doesn’t mean operating the drones in war zones and analyzing the video doesn’t come with risk. This New York Times magazine article details the mental injury suffered by some drone operators.

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