WSPD launches Aviation Unit using drones

WSPD launches Aviation Unit using drones
March 17
14:34 2021

The Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD) has introduced a new unit that will use drones or sUAS (small Unarmed Aircraft System). 

During the Public Safety Committee meeting on Monday, March 16, Assistant Chief W.S Weaver II said the WSPD Aviation Unit was established to provide aerial photography for documentation of crime scenes and police response incidents in the city, including missing persons, large event monitoring, hazmat incidents, large fire scenes, severe weather response, and suspicious packages. 

Weaver said he was aware of community concerns about potential invasions of privacy and that the sUAS would not be used as a general surveillance platform. The drones are not equipped with facial recognition software and they don’t have the capability to monitor conversations between people. 

“We at the WSPD are familiar with the concerns of the American Civil Liberties Union regarding law enforcement use of this technology and we have utilized information from their organization to maintain trust with our community. We will not be flying into our residents’ backyards, looking into their windows to invade their privacy,” Weaver continued. “Law enforcement across our nation is struggling with maintaining trust within out communities and we at the WSPD have been engaged with building trust through community oriented policing since 1989. We will not allow the missuse of technology to erode our trust with the community.”

Currently the WSPD has four drones total, but they plan to add more throughout the year and train more pilots. In order to pilot a drone for the WSPD, you have to be licensed with FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and pass a training course. 

After watching a brief video that showed how the drones work, members of the Public Safety Committee and the Winston-Salem City Council had the opportunity to share their thoughts and ask questions about the drones and the Aviation Unit. Chair of the Public Safety Committee, James Taylor, who is also publisher of The Chronicle, said, “As technology continues to evolve and expand, we have to keep up with that technology to better serve our citizens.”

Councilmember Kevin Mundy encouraged the WSPD and the city’s marketing team to ensure that the people know how the drones will be used. Although he applauded Weaver for detailing how the drones will be used, Mundy said there needs to be a plan to introduce the unit to the community. 

“There are people who are going to disagree with this,” Mundy continued. ”We need to have a PR plan before we introduce this to the public.”

According to Assistant Chief Weaver, the WSPD Aviation Unit is expected to go live sometime this week. Weaver also mentioned that they are working with the city’s marketing department to let the community know about the new unit.

“We’ve been able to work with city marketing and communications to be able to push the word out and as we start receiving comments, whether good or bad, from our citizens, we’ll take those into consideration,” he said. “We will be stepping forward and telling the people what we’re doing as far as trying to ensure we’re still maintaining their trust with the use of this technology.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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