Louisville Asks FAA to Allow Camera-Drones to Observe Gunfire Sites

Louisville's 'ShotSpotter' technology, which helps the police find gunfire scenes quickly, isn't enough—the city wants to add drones to the process.

Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The city of Louisville, Kentucky has submitted its formal plea to the FAA’s drone integration pilot program in hopes to legislate and standardize the use of camera-drones to surveil gunshot sites that are in process. Sending in an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in an officer’s stead is becoming increasingly appealing as they could prevent the loss of life and give local law enforcement functional aerial vantage points otherwise inaccessible. 

According to CNET, the aforementioned pilot program (which President Trump legislated last October) gives local, state, and tribal governments the ability to designate certain areas as drone-testing sites. These would allow for testing such as beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), nighttime operations, and more. Clearly, Louisville is taking advantage of this new opportunity by focusing on providing its law enforcement authorities with modern aerial tools that could potentially save lives and maximize overall efficiency. We’ve reported on drones in law enforcement before—how, when, and where they’re generally most implemented—and of course, not everyone is a fan. There are natural fears of giving authority the upper technological hand, but frankly, if these affordable new tools of ours can help protect police officers from unwarranted violence, this seems like a rational strategy.

There was a significant increase in homicides in Louisville last year, which reportedly motivated the Office of Performance Improvement & Innovation to utilize ShotSpotter—a technology providing the Louisville Metro PD to more effectively locate areas of gunfire. The plan here is not to replace ShotSpotter with camera-drones hovering above the city at all times, but rather, to combine the two tools. Once an area of interest is located via ShotSpotter, a camera-drone would be deployed to the said area and begin the recording process, giving officers a clear picture of the scene. While slightly Orwellian, this is pretty impressive—and a logical next step in this modern, tech-infused world of ours.

Regarding these fears of privacy invasion, Louisville’s chief of civic innovation and technology, Grace Simrall, said the drone usage here is “incident driven and only going and recording in response to a gunshot,” as opposed to continuous, all-encompassing monitoring. She added that the implementation of UAVs would allow for “better tactical awareness to our officers, potentially capturing suspects or vehicles fleeing scenes of crimes, finding evidence faster, finding victims faster and providing medical attention.” 

The city of Louisville filed its application on time, before the January 4 deadline, and is expected to receive an answer within 90 days.