The Hemet Police Department announced Wednesday that it launched a new program which will utilize drone technology to provide law enforcement with essential information when responding to emergencies.

The “Drone as a First Responder” program will use Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) equipped with video cameras to provide aerial coverage of incidents for use by officers on the ground. The drone will also “provide detailed documentation of crime and accident scenes and search for lost or missing persons,” a news release said.  

“The concept is to utilize a UAS to fly to any reported emergency and arrive before police officers on the ground. An Air Support Officer will operate the UAS remotely and immediately communicate with field personnel via radio,” Alan Reyes, a department spokesperson, said in a statement.

The video feed will be immediately available to every officer in the field through vehicle computers or smartphone apps, Reyes said, allowing officers to “see for themselves what they are responding to.”

The drones will also be equipped with CAPE, a software platform with live streaming capabilities.

“CAPE is a drone flight control software platform that facilitates local and remote piloting, live streaming anywhere in the world, and evidence-grade video management,” a news release said.

“By integrating CAPE-equipped drones into the DFR program, officers can respond to and assess active situations sooner and make lifesaving decisions on-scene.”

Drone videos captured in the field will be stored in the same manner as footage from body-worn cameras and investigation evidence, Glen Brock, the Captain overseeing the program, said.

“Footage is stored for a period of time consistent with all other evidence related to that type of incident/investigation,” Brock said.

The department has also prohibited any drone operators from “intentionally recording or transmitting images of any location where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The police department partnered with Flying Lion, which has supplied drones to other police departments across the Southland, for a 30-day trial. Once the trial period concludes, authorities will decide if the program is a good fit for the community.

The Hemet Police Department is the first police department in Riverside County to introduce a Drone First Responder program, according to the news release.

Other police departments, like the Los Angeles Police Department, have also used drones in the field.

In 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that drones permanently became a part of the LAPD’s crime-fighting arsenal unit despite privacy concerns from residents.