By Elias Marat
As an increasing amount of cities and states across the world clamp down on citizen movement due to the coronavirus, officials have been deploying drones in a bid to scare some sense into social distancing scofflaws.
The trend has seen dozens of law enforcement agencies and municipalities flock to one drone manufacturer based in China to help enforce quarantine rules while cutting costs on traditional public safety services.
One of the latest cities to enlist drones into its arsenal is Daytona Beach, Florida, which now has eight of the flying tools, including two loaned by Shenzhen, China-based drone manufacturer DJI Technology.
Over the past week, the Daytona Beach Police Department has flown upwards of 30 missions to enforce the statewide stay-at-home order in the city’s beachfront parks and on hiking trails. For police management, the use of drones is a common-sense solution to the problem of dissuading law-breakers while maintaining a safe distance amid the ongoing pandemic.
Sgt. Tim Ehrenkaufer, the head of DBPD’s Unmanned Aviation Systems Unit, told WKMG:
We’re reducing the officer having to go out there, walk into the park property, walking into a crowd of people, share those germs back and forth just to deliver a message that, ‘The park’s closed. Don’t be in here.’
The drone also has a FLIR thermal camera that can read people’s body temperatures, allowing police to single out those potentially infected by CoViD-19—a tool that Ehrenkaufer says will help officers know from a glance what precautions should be taken.
On Tuesday, the city of Elizabeth, New Jersey, announced that it would be deploying five drones, also borrowed from DJI. The drones have voice and siren capabilities and will also be used to restrict potential violators from breaking social distancing orders, reports WNBC.
In a video shared to Facebook, Elizabeth police wrote:
These drones will be around the City with an automated message from the Mayor telling you to STOP gathering, disperse and go home … Summonses HAVE AND WILL CONTINUE to be issued to those found in violation. Fines are up to $1000. You have been advised.
Unmanned aerial systems had already been in the midst of an upswing in usage across the United States due to their affordability, usefulness, and the ability to deploy them rapidly, especially in states plagued by natural disasters such as California, Texas, and Florida.
According to drone distributor Heliguy USA, which retails DJI drones, the most sought-out models for first responders has included the Chinese company’s Phantom, Inspire, Matrice, and Mavic models.
According to Pandaily, DJI enjoys a commanding lead on drone technology, with the company enjoying an estimated 70 percent share of the global drone market in 2019.
Drones made by DJI Technology have also been increasingly embraced by authorities in the European Union as a simple and cost-effective solution to the challenges presented by the coronavirus, with Spanish, French, and Belgian police among those using the speaker-equipped models to shout at citizens to go home.
In video that recently went viral, Mayor Catena DeLuca of Messina, Italy, can be heard cursing at residents who tried to leave their homes, shouting:
“Where the fuck are you going? Go back home!”
I’m officially losing it, this italian mayor is chasing ppl violating the #Covid19 quarantine yelling at them with drones. At the end he says “c’mon, arrest me”😭🤣
— ✦PinkIsTheNewBlack✦ (@ManuBlinkVIP_2) March 25, 2020
The use of the drones to literally scold residents began to gain steam in China following the outbreak of the new novel coronavirus in December. In one viral video from late January, drones in the People’s Republic can be seen ordering an elderly woman in the Inner Mongolian region for not wearing a mask, adding:
Auntie … you’d better go back home and don’t forget to wash your hands.
Walking around without a protective face mask? Well, you can’t avoid these sharp-tongued drones! Many village and cities in China are using drones equipped with speakers to patrol during the #coronavirus outbreak. pic.twitter.com/ILbLmlkL9R
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) January 31, 2020
However, the increasingly ubiquitous use of unmanned aerial systems has raised concerns about the state of civil liberties during the ongoing pandemic, with many feeling that the new reality of curfews, lockdowns, and drones hints at the creeping regimentation of society along authoritarian lines.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has also considered issuing an executive order banning federal agencies from buying or using any foreign-made drones on the basis of their potential risk to national security.
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