October 11, 2022

DFR: Helping First Responders Better Serve The Public

Inside the ground-breaking technology helping agencies tackle crime, staffing shortages and more

Drone as First Responder is the future of law enforcement. — Chief Gary Berg, Campbell PD

The last few years have put our nation through a tremendous stress test in regards to law enforcement and public safety. Today, agencies face dwindling application numbers and increased departures. Public safety is in serious need of innovative solutions to solve these challenges.

For many police departments, Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs are one such solution. With DFR, agencies can respond to 911 calls within minutes and maximize their efficiency and effectiveness in the field via video live streaming from a drone before officers arrive on the scene.

Axon Air Remote powered by DroneSense supports these innovative DFR programs. Read on to learn how your agency can benefit from Axon Air Remote and DFR.

Agencies are under pressure

Police departments across the country are grappling with widespread staffing shortages, rising crime rates and a desire to significantly decrease the number of use-of-force (UOF) incidents:

  • Staffing shortages: A wave of departures and dwindling applicant numbers have left many police departments seriously understaffed. According to reporting by CNN, these shortages have led to “longer wait times for calls for service, fewer crimes solved and cleared, and on-duty officers who are burned out and overworked threaten the quality of life in our communities.”

  • Rising crime rates: The US has seen a dramatic increase in violent crime over the last two years. In 2020, homicides increased by a staggering 29% year-over-year — They jumped an additional 7% in 2021. Gun violence has contributed significantly to this uptick, with fatal shootings nearly doubling (80%) since 2014. While the overall figures haven’t reached the highs seen in the nineties, agencies are rushing to curb the upward trend.

  • Reducing use of force: Numerous high-profile cases have inspired police departments to do everything possible to reduce the frequency of UOF incidents. Law enforcement agencies need innovative and effective de-escalation solutions.

These challenges have led many agencies to experiment with new approaches to policing, including DFR.

The power of DFR

DFR is a proactive drone program that uses strategically stationed drones and a remote operations center to enable agencies to increase situational awareness, accelerate response times and more effectively respond to challenging situations.

  • Strategically stationed drones: DFR places drones in areas where agencies have the highest average numbers of calls for service. Each drone has an assigned pilot in command (PIC) ready to fly at a moment's notice.

  • Remote operations center: DFR utilizes a teleoperator, often at the station, who has access to the dispatch screen and drone piloting software. The teleoperator can view video live streams from DFR drones to coordinate responses with officers in the field.

Agencies use this two-part DFR system to rapidly deploy drones remotely in response to incoming calls by flying under a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Certificate of Authorization waiver or by keeping the drone within visual line of sight of the PIC. The teleoperator receives inbound calls, coordinates with the station on prioritization and operates drones accordingly, while the PIC serves as a visual observer and can take control of the aircraft in an emergency. The agencies use these drones to assess situations, support ground units with intelligence and more.

According to Commander Chad Karlewicz of the Renton Police Department, DFR can directly address the three key challenges agencies face today:

  • DFR is a force multiplier: “Drones can handle lower-priority calls while officers in the field are directed towards more urgent situations. The approach also allows agencies to...best use their limited resources.”

  • DFR helps combat gun violence: “With the significant increase of gun violence, I see [gun violence] calls being the first use cases that would benefit from a DFR program. Because drones can get on the scene immediately, they can supply real-time intel that helps officers appropriately adapt their response.”

  • DFR makes interactions safer: “DFR reduces the ambiguity officers deal with in the field, improving their decision-making…. Drones can let them know, for example, if the suspect has a cell phone or gun in their hand. In short, DFR makes officers and the public safer.”

Vern Sallee, lead strategist for Axon’s end-to-end drone solution (Axon Air), helped create the first DFR program in the country at the Chula Vista Police Department, where he served as captain.Over two years, the agency ran over 6,000 DFR missions and dropped the average call response time to under 2.5 minutes, less than half the national average for ground-based units.Chula Vista’s DFR program has continued to perform since Sallee left the department to join Axon. The DFR mission count now exceeds 12,000—around 25% of which were resolved without the need to deploy ground units.

According to Sallee, DFR quickly proved effective across many use cases. “Search and rescue, critical operations support, mutual aid and de-escalation — DFR helped us solve all sorts of problems,” said Sallee. “For search and rescue, DFR gets a set of aerial eyes on the case as fast as possible. For critical operations support, everyone from SWAT teams to disaster recovery can rely on access to real-time situational intelligence from above. As for mutual aid, DFR allowed our agency to help the local fire department and other emergency responders know exactly what the car crash or burning building looked like before arriving on scene.”

Sallee is confident the future of DFR is bright and on the horizon. “I can confidently say that it's the best de-escalation tool I've ever seen in my entire career: DFR has done more to save lives in three or four years at Chula Vista than decades’ worth of other technology.”

I can confidently say that it's the best de-escalation tool I've ever seen in my entire career. - Vern Sallee, Axon Air Strategist & Former Captain of Chula Vista PD

Making DFR adoption easy

The positive and almost immediate results of DFR have prompted agencies around the US to begin developing DFR programs of their own. To support these efforts, Axon has launched Axon Air Remote, a single source for the hardware, software and training agencies need to successfully launch a DFR program:

  • Hardware: Axon Air Remote is compatible with most DJI enterprise drones used in public safety, and Axon’s support team will help your agency find and implement the right aircraft for your DFR program goals.

  • Software: Axon Air provides dependable wireless live streaming to Axon Respond, comprehensive digital evidence management with Axon Evidence (Evidence.com) and complete program management features.

  • Training: Axon Air’s straightforward training program gets teams ready to fly through virtual and in-person Axon Air software courses — and one-on-one license preparation with a 99% success rate.

Axon Air Remote’s built-in preflight checks, customizable geofences, continuous network integrity monitoring and emergency landing sites create the industry’s safest approach for demanding environments.

“Axon Air Remote allows agencies to scale their DFR program with a trusted technology partner,” explains Sallee. “All drone programs are challenging, and it is a new endeavor for most. These challenges include procuring your drone, training your pilots, getting authorizations from the FAA — on top of finding software for piloting the drones, live streaming the footage, managing the drone fleet, and storing the data. Of course, there is also the important issue of getting the public on board. All of this can be done with Axon Air Remote.”

Campbell Police Department’s Chief, Gary Berg shared that his agency adopted Axon Air Remote to create efficient workflows, aid in situational awareness, and improve officer safety. “The Axon Air Remote platform allows us to have a seamless connection in our public safety network,” he said. “As we transition to Axon CAD, we will be able to access information in one place, which is consistent with our technological goals.”

Embracing DFR

DFR can help your agency fill staff shortfalls, combat violent crime and create safer interactions with the communities they serve. But what does the future hold?

In the long term, DFR has the potential to completely change how agencies respond to situations. “By providing real-time situational awareness prior to the arrival of ground units, DFR programs are creating a paradigm shift for law enforcement and public safety.” Retired Fire Chief Charles Werner, Founder and Director, DRONERESPONDERS. Chief Gary Berg echoed these sentiments: “DFR is the future of law enforcement. Utilizing technology to assist our officers will create a safer community.” According to experts, DFR will eventually involve cutting-edge technology such as real-time analytics, computing at the edge, machine learning and autonomous drones.

DFR programs are creating a paradigm shift for law enforcement and public safety.” -- Retired Fire Chief Charles Werner, Founder and Director, DRONERESPONDERS

While innovative technology is important to Axon, the launch of Axon Air Remote is — above all — about saving lives. In April of 2022, Axon formally kicked off a new moonshot goal: to cut gun-related deaths between police and the public by 50% in the next 10 years. While DFR is only part of the solution, we believe this technology is critical to achieving this moonshot.

Transparency, data privacy and security

Axon’s entry into the DFR market sets a new high bar for transparency and data security. We wholeheartedly support drones as a force for good when deployed in an ethical manner, in response to emergency situations. We’ve built accountability into our product from the ground up. A detailed record is created for every flight an agency takes, along with relevant incident information like an associated 911 call. The flight record includes the date, time, location, exact flight path, telemetry data and even the direction and zoom of the drone's camera for the duration of the flight.

Captured video and photo evidence can be securely stored in Axon Evidence, Axon's secure cloud-based storage solution with external certifications and government authorizations such as ISO/IEC 27001:2013, SOC2+, Cloud Security Alliance STAR (Level Two), FedRAMP Authorization, the U.S. FBI CJIS Security Policy and more. Axon also operates a formal privacy program that works seamlessly with our security efforts to ensure we are aligned with global privacy expectations (such as GDPR) and provide transparency to customers and their communities about our data privacy practices.

Lastly, Axon customers own their data. Axon contractually commits that customers control and own all rights, title and interest in and to their content. These security and tracking measures ensure that agencies have the data they need to provide transparent updates to judicial, political and community stakeholders and keep their communities as safe as possible.

Interested in DFR? Contact our team to learn how your agency can implement this groundbreaking technology.

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