The City of Cleveland has partnered with the National Football League to deploy surveillance drones during the NFL Draft festivities that begin Thursday evening, according to a police commander who briefed City Council at a Safety Committee hearing Wednesday.
Commander Harold Pretel said that the city's police drone program is still "in its infancy" but that the partnership with the NFL was consistent with Safety Director Karrie Howard's desire for permanent police drones in Cleveland.
The NFL declined to comment on the partnership, specifically on the questions of who would retain ownership of the drones and the footage that they capture this weekend. It was not immediately clear how many drones would be in circulation or who would be operating them during the Draft. The NFL referred Scene's questions to the Cleveland Division of Police, but said the only drone it planned on operating was one tethered to FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Division of Police has not responded to an emailed series of questions from Scene seeking elaboration on the reported deployment.
Much later in the hearing Wednesday, which was billed as an update on the uses of technology by local law enforcement, the division's Chief Information Officer, Donald Phillips, said that the city had also partnered with the Cleveland Browns and the NFL to transmit live feeds from their cameras to the city's Real Time Crime Center, which is used to provide up-to-the-minute information to police investigators.
A presentation by representatives from "Shot Spotter" was the main event at Wednesday's meeting. Shot Spotter is an acoustical array technology in which devices are installed on rooftops and utility poles and are able to triangulate the location of gunshots. The system alerts police within 60 seconds after a gun is fired. It has been active in a three-square-mile section of Cleveland's Fourth District on the Southeast side since November. Early results from the grant-funded two-year pilot program have been positive, according to police.
Fourth District Commander Brandon Kutz said that officers had made 27 gun-related arrests and saved four lives due to the Shot Spotter technology since its launch. He said that of more than 1,500 reported incidents, there had been only one "false positive," in which the reported sound was not actually a gunshot. The police are currently on the hunt for additional funding for the pilot program's second year.
Commander Pretel was one of several police presenters. He celebrated the successes of technologies in use by the police. He said that the deployment of an increased number of surveillance cameras, for example, has been an "incredible game changer" for investigations.
"We want more cameras," he gushed. "As much as you can give us, wherever we can put them. There's no downside to it."
Pretel said that cameras, drones and other surveillance technologies "save lives, make investigations more efficient and build community trust." Enhanced technologies would help police adhere to Police Chief Calvin Williams' mandate of "respectful, professional policing," he said.
Drones were mentioned on the council agenda, but were not discussed. The meeting was dominated by the Shot Spotter presentation and a subsequent conversation about cameras and the manifold communication issues that have accompanied their installation citywide. Pretel did say, in opening remarks, that efforts had been made recently to launch a drone program in Cleveland, but those had been hampered by limited resources.
The current reported partnership with the NFL is event specific, but according to Pretel, safety director Karrie Howard wants a permanent public safety drone program. Ideastream's Matt Richmond reported last month that Cleveland Police officers were learning how to fly drones and that Howard hoped to get a program off the ground
later this year.
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