Tijuana’s Drone 9-1-1 Squad: The First, but Likely Not the Last, in Mexico – The Daily Beast

Pretty soon, when a resident of Tijuana, Mexico, calls the police, the first responder might not be a man or woman wearing the Department of Public Safety’s midnight-blue uniform.

It might be a drone. And that could cause some people to worry.

Tijuana, a city of 1.3 million people just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, announced in late May that it had hired California tech firm Cape to help it operate two small quadcopter-style drones from the city’s police headquarters.

If the experiences of other cities are any indication, the Tijuana police-drones could chase fleeing suspects and use their cameras to gather evidence, among other law-enforcement duties.

Most importantly, they could get to the source of a call quicker than a patrol car.

Drones are “a fast way to get eyes on an emergency scene,” Barry Friedman, a law professor at New York University, told The Daily Beast.

In that way, they’re like police helicopters, but cheaper and quicker to deploy. A high-end quadcopter costs just a few thousand dollars to buy, and requires just one trained operator.

“We have seen the benefits of drone use for public safety first-hand, and are extremely proud to be at the forefront of adopting the technology,” Marco Antonio Sotomayor Amezcua, Tijuana’s secretary of public safety, said in a statement to the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone trade group.

Tijuana’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are the first in Mexico. But they likely won’t be the last. More and more police departments across North America, and the world, operate their own law-enforcement drones.

In 2018, Chula Vista, the U.S. city of 270,000 just across the border from Tijuana, teamed up with Cape to integrate quadcopters into the local police force. Since the program’s launch in October 2018, according to Cape, Chula Vista’s UAVs have assisted in 72 arrests.

Once Tijuana has its own drones, the two municipalities will form a sort of international supercity of robotic policing. The Tijuana department of public safety declined to comment for this story.

As cop-drones proliferate, so do critics of the technology. Protesters succeeded in blocking early efforts by departments in Seattle and Los Angeles to deploy UAVs for police work.

Critics fear the erosion of citizens’ privacy. “Drones concern many people as a sort of Big Brother ‘eye in the sky,’” Friedman explained.

“Early adopters of this new technology have discovered a painful truth,” experts warned in a 2016 study commissioned by the U.S. Justice Department. “Where law-enforcement leaders see a wonderful new tool for controlling crime and increasing public safety, a portion of the public sees the potential for a massive invasion of privacy.”

Anti-drone activists also worry that police might arm their UAVs and turn communities into war zones. “In the public mind, the type specimen of unmanned aircraft systems is the military drone, able to hover for days, spying indiscriminately and conducting missile strikes without warning,” the DOJ-sponsored study pointed out.

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