Nev. sheriff-elect plans to use drones to monitor violent crimes in Las Vegas
Kevin McMahill offered drones as a quicker way to respond to ShotSpotter notifications in chronic hotspots
By Sabrina Schnur
Las Vegas Review-Journal
LAS VEGAS — When a gunshot rings out in parts of the Las Vegas Valley next year, a drone will fly overhead and begin recording the scene within a minute, Sheriff-elect Kevin McMahill said.
In a speech Thursday at The Orleans, McMahill told a crowd of about 200 that the Metropolitan Police Department plans to deploy hundreds of drones to shootings, but he did not provide a date for the program to begin.
The new police tactic would be implemented after he takes office in January, he said, in an effort to address a rise in violent crime.
“For the first time in our agency history, we’re going to be able to keep more officers safe, reduce officer-involved shootings and find more suspects than we ever have, quite frankly,” he said at a breakfast hosted by the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, also known as the National Association for Industrial and Office Parks of Southern Nevada.
McMahill retired from Metro as undersheriff in 2020 after nearly 30 years with the department. He was elected as sheriff, replacing Joe Lombardo, during this year’s June primary.
McMahill said the department has identified 11 “chronic hotspots” that account for about three-fourths of the crimes reported in the Las Vegas valley. He offered drones as a quicker way to respond to calls from ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection technology that relies on audio sensors and computer-analyzed data to send reports to Metro.
“We’re taking 400 drones that are pre-positioned out in these neighborhoods, on top of businesses,” McMahill said. “When the gunshot detection technology goes off, it’ll triangulate, it’ll give the GPS coordinates to the local drone. The drone will be overhead within 30 seconds.”
McMahill also hopes to use other technologies, including license plate readers and facial recognition software to cover a shortage of patrol officers.
“I believe we’re going to get to a place where you can’t commit a serious violent crime in our town without being caught,” he said.
American Civil Liberties Union spokesperson West Juhl warned facial recognition and license plate reading software have led to wrongful arrests and there was no evidence of solving more crimes with the technology.
“We haven’t seen any data to indicate that increasing police mass surveillance in our neighborhoods, and let’s be clear that there’s already quite a lot, will have the kinds of positive effects described here,” Juhl said in response to McMahill’s proposals. “Facial recognition technology is inherently biased and can’t the distinguish among people of color in many situations, and the ACLU has had to go court because inaccurate facial recognition results resulted in arrest.”
McMahill told the audience that he hoped to increase officer retention by offering them mental health care options. He plans to institute a wellness bureau in the department to promote a healthy mind and body. Before he left in 2020, McMahill said the department was understaffed by about 300 officers.
“I believe if we take care of our first responders in a markedly different way than we ever have, they will in turn take care of this community in a markedly different way than they ever have,” he said.