Did That Drone Just Tell Us to Stay 6 Feet Apart?

By: - May 15, 2020 12:00 am

Police Sgt. Christian Rodriguez operates a drone at Hubbard Park in Meriden, Connecticut, last month. Several police departments during the coronavirus outbreak mounted speakers on drones to alert the public to social distancing guidelines. Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP

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The plan for a pandemic drone didn’t last long in Westport, Connecticut.

Within days in late April, the police department of the coastal town outside New York City reversed course on using drone-mounted cameras to scan crowds for fevers and coughs.

The department had said it would use the technology at beaches, train stations, recreation areas and shopping centers. Biometric readings would help the department understand population patterns and respond to potential health threats.

Feedback from some of the town’s 28,000 residents was quick and laden with concern, Lt. Anthony Prezioso said, so the department canned the program.

“This is not really a time to divide people,” Prezioso said. “If this was an issue that would create more angst and division among our community, it wasn’t the time.”

At least 40 law enforcement agencies across the country have used drones in the past few months for coronavirus-related purposes, according to a Stateline review of police websites and news reports. Law enforcement drones have hovered over a homeless encampment to invite people to get a free health assessment, flown over parks to check for social distancing and broadcast messages asking crowds to disperse.

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Lindsey Van Ness
Lindsey Van Ness

Lindsey Van Ness is an assistant production editor and staff writer for Stateline. Previously Lindsey reported on public safety issues at LNP and LancasterOnline in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.