Due to the city’s proximity to Peachtree-DeKalb Airport, the city has federal clearance to fly drones only in certain places and up to certain altitudes. In addition, the department can’t fly the drone more than one mile away from its launch site, limiting its reach in the city. Ayana said he applied for a federal waiver in November to extend that range to three miles.
“The biggest thing I’m proud of is that we got zero citizen complaints. Citizens don’t call to complain about the drones because we’re very transparent in the way that we operate,” he said, referencing how the city maintains a drone flight history log online.
So far, drones have photographed five crime scenes in Brookhaven, which Ayana said have primarily been shootings and homicides. He also said drones have an average response time of under three-and-a-half-minutes, which is more than a minute faster than the average time for responding officers.
Hours before Ayana gave his presentation, a Brookhaven police drone aided in the arrest of Alton Johnson, 27, and Shyquan Collins, 30, who were both accused of a violent armed robbery in North Carolina. The suspects’ car was spotted by a license plate reader along Buford Highway, police said.
Responding officers were able to arrest Johnson, who was standing outside of the car, but Collins was inside the store. A drone was at the scene to provide aerial coverage, and its pilot spotted Collins fleeing out the back door of a CVS, running into some nearby woods, according to police. The drone tracked him until he was taken into custody.
Ayana said the situation showcases how police drones are an integral piece of modern police work, and he used a musical analogy to make his point.
“It’s all an orchestra, right? Without a good conductor and putting those pieces in place, we don’t have a good concert, essentially,” he said. “Because of (the drone), literally two hours ago, we had some beautiful music. We got two bad guys off the street.”