FWPD drone to help officers respond to 911 calls

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 7:26 PM EST
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - When you call 911 you usually would just be talking to a dispatcher, but with the Fort Wayne Police Department’s new program, a drone pilot will be listening too.

It’s called the Drone First Responder Program (DRF) and it was unveiled Tuesday at the police station. Officers say they have partnered with the Allen County Fort Wayne dispatch center to help find new ways to keep people safe.

Officer Matt Rowland with the FWPD Air Support Unit says they’ll be working closely with the 911 dispatch center to respond to calls using their latest drone technology. He says the pilot operating the drone will be able to see a map of 911 calls and send their drone to the scene. From there, they will use the drone to survey the scene and help dispatchers and police decide the best way to respond to emergencies.

“When folks call 911 they’re in distress they aren’t thinking clearly so if we can get the idea of where they are at using the drone,” Rowland said. “We can figure out whether they’re going north, south, east or west.”

Rowland says the program has already proven useful in a number of incidents like suspicious subjects, car crashes, robberies, and any 911 call that doesn’t require immediate medical attention. He says their drones have been able to get on the scene before officers 72% of the time.

“With being able to respond to calls with 911 service, the drone can go ahead and get there before police officers so that they have more information before they get there,” he said.

A concern with our 21Investigates team was how will officers protect people’s privacy? Rowland says they aren’t just going to be going around watching everyone with this drone. He says they only respond to 911 calls.

“This isn’t surveillance. We don’t record unless there’s evidentiary value. We are only responding to calls for services,” he said. “We’re not just randomly patrolling. We go to those calls for service. we’re not storing hours and hours of video.”

Director of the Allen County Fort Wayne 911 dispatch center Dave Bubb says he was initially hesitant to be a part of the program because he didn’t want anyone listening in on calls and getting involved. However, he says as he learned more he understood how much of a benefit the program will be for his dispatchers and people in Fort Wayne.

“When people call us they aren’t having the best day,” Bubb said. “We are very excited to be a part of this program.”

Police say right now the drone can only operate within a five mile radius within downtown Fort Wayne and it can only operate during the day. They say they are hoping to find ways to change those parameters in the future.