The Miami-Dade Police Department could soon become the first police department in the country to employ unmanned drones, a technology that until now has been used for official purposes only in war zones and along the country's border. The department acquired two T-Hawk Micro Air Vehicles, manufactured by Honeywell, in August 2009, and has been testing and training with them since. It is now in the third phase of a three-phase testing program, and plans to apply soon to the FAA for final approval to use the drones in operations. (A report on Thursday by WSVN said the department had recently finalized a deal to obtain a drone, but the department told TPM that information was incorrect.)
"No other law enforcement agency in the country is using this," Sergeant Andrew Cohen, who has been coordinating the program for the department's aviation unit, told TPM. "We're forging new ground."
Unlike the famous Predator-B drones, which have been used to kill militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, T-Hawks are much smaller, carry no weapons and are intended for short, targeted tasks. Cohen said each T-Hawk is approximately the size of a "small office garbage can." On its website, Honeywell boasts that the T-Hawk is "a combat-proven unmanned micro air vehicle that can be quickly deployed. T-Hawk is easy to assemble and can be airborne within 10 minutes. It is simple to fly with minimal training. With unique hover and stare capability, T-Hawk supports advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) with real time video documentation." According to the company, T-Hawks can fly as high as 10,000 feet, at speeds up up to 50 miles per hour, with 46 minutes of endurance.
Cohen told TPM that one of the units was purchased with a Department of Justice grant, and the other one was leased to the department by Honeywell for the cost of $1. (Presumably, the company is eager for the department to inspire others to purchase their products.) According to Cohen, the T-Hawk offers Miami police two main benefits. For one, a drone can help the department avoid putting an officer in harm's way, by reducing the need for piloted helicopters. Drones can also provide "real time information to the commanders on the scene," improving safety and communication between officers.