Aerial Oversight: Navigating the Pros and Cons of Coral Gables’ Drone Surveillance Experiment”

Javier Baños

Baños is the Editor of Gables Insider

The City of Coral Gables has made a significant leap into the future of policing with the approval of the “Drone as First Responder” pilot program, in partnership with the company Bond. For a span of three months and a budget of $240,000, derived from police forfeiture funds, the city will test the efficacy of drones in combatting crime—a move that may revolutionize local law enforcement. The program is poised to be a game-changer in the fight against the primary nuisances of the community: petty crimes, home invasions, and burglaries.

Drawing inspiration from military techniques used in Iraq, as per the insights of the 2015 Radiolab, WNYC, New York Public Radio episode “Eye in the Sky,” the Coral Gables initiative plans to use drone-captured footage to track and apprehend criminals post-incident. Theoretically, within minutes after a home invasion, a detective could trace a burglar from the crime scene to their hideout by following the drone-capture images of the burglar’s movements after the crime, significantly reducing the time it takes to solve a criminal case. Runaway drivers, car thieves, home invaders, and other more violent criminals would be subject to the constant oversight of flying drones, acting as a deterrent to criminal conduct.

However, with every step towards increased security, a shadow of concern for privacy rights grows longer. Critics of the program argue that the continuous aerial surveillance risks creating a ‘Big Brother’ scenario, where residents’ every move could potentially be monitored and recorded. The implications extend beyond criminal justice; civil cases might leverage this surveillance, exposing personal moments and details that are traditionally private. All of the footage could potentially be subject to public records request, allowing any stalker, private investigator or divorce attorney to review all movements in and out of a home.

The introduction of visual artificial intelligence could further complicate the privacy debate. While this form of AI is not currently a component of the Coral Gables program, its future incorporation could remove human discretion from the equation, leading to a reliance on algorithms that may misinterpret context and intent.

There are also broader implications for individual privacy. As society ventures further into an era of technological omnipresence, the ability to remain anonymous is diminished. The responsibility to ensure that this technology is wielded judiciously falls to the city’s officials, particularly Chief Hudak, who must navigate the delicate balance between leveraging innovation for public safety and preserving the privacy of the citizens.

The “Drone as First Responder” program is at the forefront of a national conversation about the role of surveillance in public safety. As Coral Gables embarks on this technological frontier, the outcomes of this pilot may well inform the future of policing and privacy rights far beyond the city’s borders. The program’s true test will be whether the drones hovering in the skies of Coral Gables will come to represent guardians or intruders in the eyes of those they watch over.


32 thoughts on “Aerial Oversight: Navigating the Pros and Cons of Coral Gables’ Drone Surveillance Experiment”

  1. Drones are established crime-fighting technology and successfully used in cities across the country to deter crime and catch bad actors. Test programs are just that – tests – and should be evaluated as we would any other operational expense at the City. Congratulations to our Chief and CGPD for their constant efforts to stay on the leading-edge of protecting our citizens and properties.

  2. Perfect idea! Let’s catch the really big criminals in the city. Assign a drone to each lobbyist and each important city P&Z and Board of Architects member as they arrange private meetings. Then equip the drone with one of those devices that intercept cell phone calls. That way you will catch some of the biggest crooks in the city. Forget the petty criminals, I’m sure the lobbyists would agree, why if they have nothing to hide they should consent right?

  3. Test out these drones out by implementing a program to actually ticket the self-centered idiot jack-asses who park on the sidewalk. Tired of dealing with the constant blocking of the public right-of-way, and the city doing nothing about it other than a little “friendly reminder” online.

  4. How can this be legal? If law enforcement agencies need warrants for surveillance, phone taps, etc. of people actually suspected of committing crimes, how can they intrude on the lives of ordinary citizens like this? Sounds like whatever elected officials approved this should face questions from the voters. This is dystopian.

  5. In many parts of Coral Gables, the only thing visible from an aerial perspective is people’s pools, which shouldn’t be surveilled. The remainder of the streets are covered by tree canopy. Not sure how this initiative will help.

  6. Terrible idea! Stop wasting my tax dollars! Privacy and constitutional issues. The city is promoting a heavy tree canopy; so the view will be blocked from above. It’s also adding to noise pollution. I had a neighbor overlooking me in my backyard. Hovering up and down with a small buzzing noise that became dizzying!! We do not need to invade everybody’s homes and spend a lot of my tax dollars because of a few bad apples. Start focusing on how to eliminate wasteful spending projects that are costing me unreasonably high taxes dollars for things I do not want and we do not need. The city has an effective police department that does a fine job. One real problem that should be given priority is the reduction of noise pollution along Bird and Red Roads. Why is the city not enforcing the noise ordinance? Another real problem is the light pollution that is creeping in too. Seeing the awfully bright stick lights on Miracle Mile and a couple of new street lights that were put on Bird Road, I was appalled. These are unnecessarily way too bright, especially on Bird Road, an area were people have homes. If you educate yourself on these topics you will see that they affect our physical health, heart health and mental health. The decibels levels of the rising rates of motorcycle and sport cars with revved up motors are so loud and come up at jarring times and levels such that I feel the vibration in my body. That $240,000 could go to repaving those streets, putting in sound absorbers and putting speed bumps and road blocks all along Red Road and Bird Road to discourage what leads to these problems. Station a couple of cops on the corner of Bird and Red Road at all times to enforce the laws and ticket violators, which would generate revenue for the city. Require exhaust silencers, and prohibit the sale of vehicles with high decibel levels. We should not permit the sale of loud sports cars in an area that should be quiet throughout the city not just in some parts. If you have $240,000 it’s best not to spend it, but if you must spend put it to these necessary issues; not on wasteful test project. At the end of the year, I would like to see the commissioners recount how many wasteful projects they have been able to cut from the budget and how my taxes will be less next year. I don’t want to see a list of expensive projects under the guise of accomplishments.

  7. It is a “trial run” for three month, I can live with that. Then an evaluation of Cost VS Results. Worry about your privacy? Nothing is private anymore, if you want & care about your privacy, don’t have internet, Alexa, do online shopping, use Google for research, etc. etc. In Spanish we have a saying, “El que no lo debe no lo teme”.

    I would like to see cameras on every traffic light that has a restriction it would be very lucrative for the City. No U Turn, No Right Turn on Red, No Left Turn, No Stopping or Parking, Residential Parking, One Way Only, the new style of Parking Against Traffic/Wrong Side of the Street both Cars & Delivery Trucks, Changing Lanes at the Intersection, etc. etc. Drivers ignore All! On Galiano Street behind The Plaza, the arrows on the street point to go Strait & to turn Right or Left when the Signs in the intersection in RED say “Do Not Enter” and Drivers take the Turn, Blocking Traffic with the Blinking lights on, Blocking the Intersection, an on & on. Why drivers ignore Traffic Laws? Maybe they never read the book or they can get away with it and No Tickets!!!

  8. This must be a right wing idea. Surveillance of private citizens by having drones watch them. I’d like to see them all shot down and those that think this is a good idea, sued for infringing on my right to privacy. If the police we already have can’t do their jobs then get rid of them all and start anew. This is not a bad idea, it’s a horrible idea. Go live in china or Russia if you want to live like this. This idea sucks.

  9. I echo the words of Pete Izaguirre and Alberto Santos. It is an effort worth pursuing. Let us use technology to our advantage.

  10. Useless….hasnt done anything. Takes long to “activate” it. Idea seems good on paper but it never helped. The city should’ve spent money on their officers themselves…maybe they wouldn’t habe 15+ officers leaving. Ask me how do I know…. anyways…hope you all stay safe…we will need it.

  11. I suspect that Coral Gables is already using drones to spy on the residents. I had a drone with a camera hovering in my back yard looking at my patio awning. The awning was probably put up without a permit and the city was checking it out. When the camera turned and saw me looking at it, it flew away very quickly. This was quite a few years ago, and my awning is long gone along with the frame.

  12. It’s another effort, idea to combat crime in The Gables. Great concept. Negative people will always find negative things to say. Never come up with a better idea. Those who worry about privacy usually have something to hide. I say bring it, test it, then decide.

  13. Learn from Wiser Old School Policemen & Politicians. Lived in 33166, Miami Springs, in the 70s & early 80s. Springs was kept safe by simultaneously discouraging outside traffic with Radar Speed Traps on BOTH main entryway residential arteries Curtiss Parkway, linking airport to Hialeah, and on Royal Poinciana. Bad guys stayed away for fear of the tickets. Why don’t we have more Police presence or red light ticket cameras on Granada or Alhambra? Instead of simply being parked in their cars watching their laptops, the cops could be generating REVENUE with their Radar Guns.

  14. What a disgusting violation of privacy for all of us in the Gables. This is a gross overstep in the name of ‘policing’ and is taking away funds that could be redirected towards more critical issues plaguing our community. I dissent in FULL and do not want big government, led by the corrupt Mayor Lago, no less, invited into my personal life or onto/over my property without a valid warrant.

  15. Insane violation of privacy, the last thing this world needs to more surveillance. Where is the line? How much privacy are we willing to give up in the name of “safety”?

  16. Just what we need big brother monitoring us in our backyards. Our kids play subject to a Foia request. Terrible idea. I will be writing my commissioner in opposition. Total violation of our right to privacy.

  17. It’s an experiment meant to gather data to evaluate the effectiveness, the upside and downside of the potential. We enjoy an amazingly rapid average police response in the city. Let’s see if further advantage can be achieved, creating a safer environment. Let’s also weigh the unintended consequences and unforeseen disadvantages. A comprehensive report after the trial with be informative.

  18. What a great idea to further increase the personal bank accounts of the genius who sold this idea to our commissioners !!!!

  19. I strongly suggest listening to the RadioLab podcast episode – the link in this article – excellent recount of prior such experiments w/ many pros & cons.
    I had listened to it maybe 6 months ago – my favorite podcast series – at the time it left me undecided but less excited about having it in my city. I’ll be listening to it again in the next couple of days to reeducate myself on everything they learned from their city experiment(s). Happy Thanksgiving all🌹

  20. Drones can never replace helicopters because there is no human on board making split-second decisions based on rapidly changing conditions and communicating contextual information/advice to those on the ground.

    Total waste of money for Coral Gables. Let another city be the guinea pig and let’s take those lessons learned and apply them. Let another city endure the records requests, fallout, liability, and lawsuits first!

  21. The worst waste of city money, all of a sudden we have $240,000 for a pilot drone program for 3 months and 101% pay raises to throw away, but we don’t have money for our employees nor for a COLA. I don’t think we need drones to hover over City Hall, where the real crime is happening. Let start be cleaning office and starting with a new slate.

  22. FAA regulations require specific flight plan submission and approval of each flight in an airport controlled air space such as northern Coral Gables. The flight operator must be in continuous contact with the tower. How are you going to tell the tower where you are flying to? You read the mind of the perp? And just so you know, at age 75 I am not going to renew my Air Traffic Controller license no matter how much you pay me…

  23. The tree canopy, tree heights, inclement weather. power lines, street lights, line-of-sight communications, et al, in our city are basic impediments to any effective aerial surveillance by a drone. Aside from the very valid privacy concerns, I am not sure it is a necessity in our city or that it can be effective. Prefer to see an increased police force and increased number of patrol zones, a real need. A drone can only surveil, if they are operational and not grounded due to the above. A police officer can surveil and immediately act. Technology and its “toys” are over-hyped and oversold. They will never replace humans. This initiative is one to watch closely, to verify and validate any outcomes presented by the vendor. Few vendors are truly transparent in their business dealings, especially when they see “blank confiscated monies checks”. Our safety cannot be compromised nor become dependent on fallible pieces of hardware which do nothing to respond to a life or death situation. Our police force can and always does.

  24. What a terrible waste of money this would be, and totally useless, in my opinion. The crook will be long gone before a drone can be placed in the air. Whoever thought up such a stupid idea? I am a 6 year hobbyist drone enthusiast. I fly my drone for fun and photography. I am qualified by FAA and Trust certificate,and follow all of the rules (stay below 400 feet, do not fly over people, do not fly near disasters or police work, etc. ). The complaint of one writer of “loss of privacy” is foolish. Hobby drone fliers could care less what is going on in your yard. Now, this adds to the dangers in our skies, and would would place drones buzzing around, disturbing our peace and possibly interfering with an unsuspecting drone flyer.

  25. The city is not interested in petty crimes. Drones for “after” the fact? Who buys that? They don’t want to do the paperwork it takes to prosecute. Been there! Self serving, just want an award to say its #1 with technology. That’s all.

  26. I am opposed to these drones. We live in a free society wherein we have a right to privacy. Drone images WILL capture people’s back yards in the course of flying around to “protect the community “. I don’t need to see what my neighbor is doing in the privacy of their homestead. As the article states, anyone can request a copy of the surveillance footage. This is a huge threat to the safety of children. Anyone can ask for enough tapes to learn a child’s routine. That’s a big NO from me

  27. I am against this step in law enforcement because it is ineffective. The drones have to be in the vicinity of the crime to even be able to “chase” the criminal/s. Therefore, drones will have to be flying around at all times to be effective. This idea is a slippery slope towards surveillance of “suspects”. Who is a suspect? My guess is as good as theirs. Furthermore, even though this was approved, no where in the article did it state what laws the city council had passed to rein in misconduct on law enforcement’s part or what the parameters of use are. This is poorly rolled out so this “experiment” will be bad for the public.

  28. Ethics? Oversight? In military circumstances there are active “review panels/ individuals/ JAG lawyers” assessing the information being received and the subsequent action to be taken place. Where will that step be on the City’s side?

  29. I’m totally opposed to drones and any for of surveillance. This is what I call drip, drip control by the government and those in power under the guise of “Protection”. Fear drives the motivation from those that accept it.

  30. The more security the better!!!!!Thank you to the Mayor and our Commission!!!Make this a permanent change to enhance the safety in our community!!

  31. Drones are replacing helicopters. If we lived for decades with police and traffic monitoring helicopters, we can live with drones. Proposing a “national conversation” about a technology update on an activities we have had for over 70 years, it is just to create fear and uncertainty among people. This is a mechanism to distract people from the real issues that we need to address: an unmanageable debt (personal and government), uncontrolled government spending, low fertility rates, poor education in basic math, science and even basic reading.

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