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NJ, Fla. police use ‘talking’ drones to enforce COVID-19 social distancing

Police in Daytona Beach and Elizabeth have been using drones with automated messages designed to disperse crowds while maintaining social distancing


Associated Press

WASHINGTON — As authorities enforce social distancing in the battle against coronavirus, don’t be surprised if you hear reminders coming from the sky.

Police departments in Florida and New Jersey have drones with pre-recorded warnings that will be deployed if crowds are not following COVID-19 guidelines.

“There’s never been a more important time in history for drone technology to play a more important role and this crisis is a prime example of where the technology can benefit,” drone expert and White Fox Defense Strategic Advisor Brett Velicovich said Thursday.

In New Jersey, the Elizabeth Police Department said Tuesday on Facebook that new models are enforcing social distancing.

“These drones will be around the city with an automated message from the mayor telling you to STOP gathering, disperse and go home,” police said.

According to police, summonses have and will continue to be issued to those in violation. Fines range up to $1,000.

The initial post drew hundreds of comments, with many raising privacy concerns. Police clarified on Wednesday that the use of drones is just because “we are just trying to save lines, not trying to be big brother.”

“If this plan saves one life, then it is worth it,” the department said. “There is no recording and no pictures being taken, it is a tool of encouragement to follow the rules.”

In Florida, the Daytona Beach Police Department recently started using drones with public address systems to announce closures at city-owned parks.

“They look up at the drone startled for a second that they’re hearing someone from the air talking to them. They then wave to it, leave the property,” Sgt. Tim Ehrenkaufer, who runs the drone unit, told FOX35.

Ehrenkaufer said using drones is helping to limit officers’ possible exposure to the virus in the field.

“We need something where we can start bridging that gap a little bit... coming face-to-face with you, to me getting the message to you remotely,” he said.

The two drones the department is using also are equipped with a flare system that can detect body temperatures ranging from 99-105 degrees.