April 25, 2023

Case Study: The Boulder PD UAS Program

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The Boulder Police Department’s (CO) UAS team is evolving with a new initiative: a Drone as First Responder (DFR) program. Facilitated by Paladin Drones, this DFR program will bolster the situational awareness of officers as they protect and serve over 100,000 Boulder residents.

While DFR is a new concept, the department is no stranger to the benefits of drone technology. BPD has employed drones in numerous operations with remarkable success. But in the UAS team's minds, one incident illustrates their value best.

A Drone Ends the Pursuit

BPD officers heard the call over the radio: a stolen vehicle was spotted at a gas station. Several units responded and tracked the suspect to an apartment complex. Attempting to evade them, the suspect disappeared to the back of the parking lot. Fortunately, one of the officers kept a drone in his patrol car — a DJI Mavic Zoom at the time — and deployed it for a quick search. He quickly located the vehicle with the drone. Unfortunately, tinted windows prevented the pilot from seeing the suspect.  

An unmarked patrol unit then drove into the complex to verify the suspect’s location. The officer spotted the man sitting in the car and attempted to block him in. However, the suspect managed to push past the officer and avoid the spike strip at the lot entrance. In doing so, he drove over a curb and unknowingly damaged the vehicle. 

Unable to continue the pursuit (per department policy), units were told to stand down. However, the drone pilot continued to track the suspect and soon noticed something interesting. Shortly after merging onto a nearby highway, the vehicle started smoking, forcing the man to pull over.  

Prompted by this development, the pilot called available units to close in. As expected, the suspect ran from his vehicle into a nearby marsh, but officers quickly apprehended him. The successful arrest is credited to the collaboration between units on the ground and the drone pilot, who provided a "play-by-play" throughout the chase.

Credit: Paladin Drones

Surprisingly, the story does not end there. During the foot chase, a second officer flew a drone to the now-abandoned vehicle on the highway. The pilot was able to confirm that the vehicle was unoccupied, so officers moved in to search, discovering a gun in the front seat. They later learned that the driver had multiple warrants for his arrest. 

Lessons Learned

For the UAS team, this incident is a perfect example of how drones ensure success by providing real-time awareness.  

As one of their pilots put it, “If I did not follow it [the suspect’s vehicle] with the drone, they [officers] would have just found a disabled vehicle on the side of the highway, and that is it. The suspect would still be running in the neighborhood.” 

They also attribute their success to the type of drones used.  

“Had we not had small drones to carry in our car,” said one officer, “it [the pursuit] would have been over.”  

Assigning smaller drones to patrol vehicles means officers can deploy them early in a call, enabling them to act decisively without wasting precious time waiting on the arrival of a supporting UAS team. 

Boulder PD’s drone pilots have also been an invaluable resource for the local fire department. Using the thermal cameras on their aircraft, officers have guided firefighters to hotspots during several recent apartment fires. Their collaboration is remarkably seamless; it is just a matter of "giving the battalion chief an iPad” displaying the drone feed. Incident commanders can then use that information to direct the hose streams.

Credit: Paladin Drones

The Way Forward

The team’s collective successes, as they described it, “opened everyone’s eyes to our capabilities.” As a result, they secured a budget for the UAS team and subsequent DFR program. More importantly, these cases attest to the importance of investing in innovative solutions; increased awareness enables officers to be more effective, resulting in safer communities.

FLYMOTION is proud to be a solutions provider for the Boulder Police Department and applauds them for leveraging technology to serve and protect. If your agency is looking to experience the benefits of a UAS program, we are standing by to help! Fill out the form below or visit our website to learn more.

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