US law enforcement uses drones to communicate with homeless encampments


At least four law enforcement agencies in the US - two in California, and one in each of Maryland and Texas - are using drones to communicate with homeless people about maintaining social distance because encampments are located in areas that are difficult to access and police do not have to visit in person. Critics complain that the move increases encampment dwellers' already-high distrust in government. Many of the drones are being donated by the China-based drone company DJI as part of the company's Disaster Relief Programme; it has provided 100 drones to 45 public safety agencies in 22 states. DJI has suggested that thermal cameras to measure body temperature and disinfectant sprays could be attached to the drones, though so far public safety agencies are not using these. Others come from Impossible Aerospace, a specialist in unmanned aircraft. The Chula Vista police department outside of San Diego defended the move by saying it was their last choice because the encampments they're trying to reach are so hard to reach, and noted that the information the drones announced were directions to staging areas where people could receive food, personal hygiene kits, masks, and health screenings. Experts on homelessness say that specifically trained homeless service providers and public health experts should be the ones conducting outreach rather than police.

Writer: April Glaser
Publication: NBC News
Publication date: 2020-04-24