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.