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Kentucky's Biggest City Wants to Send Surveillance Drones Into Neighborhoods After Shootings

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The mayor of Louisville, Kentucky wants to create the nation’s first fleet of aerial surveillance drones programmed to respond to gunfire. Speaking to press Wednesday, Mayor Greg Fischer said unmanned aerial vehicles could be key to curbing the city’s gun violence.

“The No. 1 issue is using all means we have to increase public safety, and if we can do it smarter with technology, we are going to do that,” Fischer told WDRB.


Louisville is one of 300 cities that applied for the federal Unmanned Aerial System Integration Pilot Program, which provides funding and technology to cities trying to get a drone program off the ground. Only five cities will ultimately be chosen, though Louisville appears to be the only one proposing this unique gun violence detection angle.

The drones would respond to gunshots detected through Louisville’s existing ShotSpotter system, a series of acoustic devices placed around the city that are attuned to the sound of gunfire. ShotSpotter listens for the concussive blast, then sends GPS data to police stations, usually long before 911 calls are made. Police in Chicago have lauded the devices, saying they’re most useful in high-crime neighborhoods where people typically don’t call the police when they hear gun shots.


As the Louisville imagines it, surveillance drones would respond to gunshots ahead of officers to capture images of people involved on the scene before they can flee.

“We concluded that if we could leverage camera technology, we could get much faster to the scene of a crime, specifically the detection of a gunshot,” Grace Simrall, Louisville’s Chief of Civic Innovation told WDRB.

While police technology has a wealth of privacy concerns, Simrall said the drones may actually be less invasive than CCTV because they’re only acticated in specific areas after gunshots are heard.


“From my perspective, actually having the city blanketed in stationary cameras is a bigger privacy concern since those cameras are always on and always rolling,” she said.

Privacy experts are sure to have a wealth of questions should the fleet roll out. Chiefly: What data will the drones capture? Will it be images or video? Does that include faces and license plates? Who will have access to that data, and where will it go? And how long would that data be kept?


ShotSpotter is popular in areas with high gun violence, though advocates have complained that the tech doesn’t solve the underlying issues: the prevalence of gun violence and that people don’t call 911 when they hear gunshots. It could be because they’re inured to the sound, or don’t trust police. Will sending drones help?

Louisville officials say the project is still in its early stages. It’s unclear how much the program would cost or if they’d employ the drones without the federal grant.