IN ENSENADA, A Mexican city about two hours south of Tijuana, a new crime fighter has taken to the skies. It’s not a bird, or a plane, or Superman. It’s a drone. And over a few months on patrol, it’s had quite the impact. The city’s police department claims the solitary DJI Inspire 1 Quadcopter led to more than 500 arrests and a 10 percent drop in overall crime rates, with a 30 percent drop in home robberies.
It’s the latest example of drones slowly finding their place in civilian life, like soldiers returning from war, seeking to apply their skills to life in a country not entirely comfortable with what they were up to overseas. Unmanned aerial vehicles may have gotten their start with the military, flying recon missions in Vietnam and dropping bombs over Afghanistan. Their use is still causing concern and debate: Earlier this month, Google pledged not to renew a Department of Defense contract for Project Maven, where it was developing AI to interpret drone surveillance video, when 4,500 employees signed a petition against it.
But in Ensenada, the police present their use of the drone as an unmitigated success. “It’s helped with reducing response times and also catching people when they do something illegal,” says Jesus Ramos Avendaño, CTO of the Ensenada police force.
Over four months, Avendaño’s department flew an average of 25 missions a day (more than 1,600 total), deciding where to fly based on 911 call volumes. Operating from a local control room, the police used software developed by California-based Cape.
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