Richmond police add drones to crime-fighting toolkit

Officers training with new drones

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Richmond Police Department is taking the fight against crime to the skies with new drones.

The department has acquired four drones, two of which are meant for indoor flight. The drones go up to 400-feet and give police a bird’s eye view in real-time.

“If I thought there was a person on top of a roof that posed a threat to citizens and police officers in the area, I can fly the aircraft up," said Captain Michael Snawder, explaining some of the benefits of the unmanned vehicles.

Although, police have already used them in real-world situations:

“We were able to convey to a person that was armed that we wanted them to drop a weapon, and I was able to – with the UAV – confirm that from fifteen stories above," Snawder said.

RPD SWAT teams trained with the drones for the first time, during an active shooter drill, which turned into a mock hostage situation.

“We want to train for things we can’t predict. We used a building that we haven’t used for training before. And the amount of realism that’s being displayed is an opportunity to make it as real as possible,” said Chief William Smith.

SWAT officers knew of the drill but did not know initially that they were getting a little aerial support, as a drone delivered a phone to the mock hostage.

Mock Hostage reaches for a phone, delivered by a drone during a training drill.
Mock Hostage reaches for a phone, delivered by a drone during a training drill. (Source: WWBT/NBC12)

“That gives us the ability for most critical situations to have good situational awareness, good operational awareness so that we can make the best decisions possible without putting people in harm’s way,” Smith said.

But of course, with law enforcement now able to literally watch over the city, it raises questions of privacy.

Snawder said that police are “going to want to have a search warrant before we use them. SWAT teams, patrol, investigators, they’re going to have already secured a search warrant before we use a unmanned aircraft."

He adds that for certain situations, however, such as Amber Alerts, or if police can articulate an immediate threat, the search warrants are generally not needed.

Currently, 20 officers are trained and certified to pilot the drones.

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