DC police invest in high-tech helicopter, new drone program to fight crime

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Pamela Smith unveiled a new $6 million helicopter Monday, and announced the launch of a drone program that they hope will enhance the city's crime-fighting capabilities. 

The new aerial tools are being introduced to assist officers with community safety and support the department's Real-Time Crime Center's efforts.

"We know that MPD’s Air Support Unit plays an important role in driving down crime and keeping our community safe, and these upgrades are going to support that work," said Mayor Bowser in a statement. "We have already seen success with the Real-Time Crime Center, and this is one more way to leverage new technology to protect officers, keep D.C. safe, and drive down crime."

MPD joins approximately 1,500 police departments nationwide that utilize drones. These drones provide critical information and a bird’s-eye view of crime scenes in real-time. 

MPD believes that they will be particularly useful in responding to critical incidents, such as searching for missing persons, tracking suspects, executing high-risk warrants, documenting major crash investigations, and assisting the Harbor Patrol Unit during water search operations.

"It will be good for crowd management, but I think the most important thing that the public always wants to know about is the privacy piece, and being able to have an expectation of privacy and exercise their first amendment rights and this will not be an invasion of that," Chief Smith told FOX 5. "If there’s a crime that’s been committed in that space, it gives us the opportunity at that point, any type of physical civil disturbance — we can take that drone and we can key in on the individuals who are creating that type of chaos during those peaceful protests."

In addition to the drone program, MPD’s Air Support Unit will benefit from the new Airbus H-125 helicopter, named Falcon 1. 

Falcon 1, MPD says, offers superior speed, agility, and performance compared to its predecessor. 

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It features the latest technology, including a glass cockpit for improved flight efficiency, enhanced maneuverability, increased fuel efficiency, and resilience to adverse weather conditions. The new helicopter is capable of streaming live video to the Real Time Crime Center and drone footage will assist its investigators and officers on-scene. 

So far in 2024, MPD’s Air Support Unit has responded to 493 calls for service and assisted in 76 arrests.

In 2023, the unit responded to 1,517 calls for service, assisted in 194 arrests, completed 980 safety checks along the rivers, and conducted 1,083 traffic checks on D.C. roadways.

Mayor Bowser told FOX 5 that violent crime is down 27 percent in 2024, and the new equipment is designed to help maintain that trend.