Coral Gables hires drone operator to find missing persons, identify crime suspects

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The city of Coral Gables has contracted with a third-party drone operator that will stream footage to the police department in response to calls to locate missing persons, identify suspects, respond to crimes in-progress and assess major accident scenes and fires before first responders arrive.

The City Commission last week authorized the police department to begin an aerial piloted drone program with a company called Bond. The $240,000 contract, active through May 2024, stipulates that the city will lease four drones from Bond that will be operated from the ground by Bond pilots — not by Coral Gables police.

The city’s police department will use Bond as an “on-call provider to assist the department as situations arise,” city spokeswoman Martha Pantin said in an email. She added that Bond will be securely streaming the drone footage in real-time to police department personnel.

According to a letter from Bond CEO Doron Kempel to the police department, Bond’s drones are equipped with infrared and visible light cameras, a megaphone and spotlight, six propellers, which allow the drone to stay airborne if it loses one, as well as a parachute, and a telecommunications system “optimized for support in urban environments” that can connect to LTE through different cell phone carriers. The city did an earlier trial period with the drone company in the summer of 2022.

Other city departments previously had drones, but those models were made in China and are no longer in use, Pantin said. Chinese-made drones have caused concerns over national security, prompting U.S. lawmakers to propose severe restrictions. Gov. Ron DeSantis in April banned the use of Chinese-manufactured drones by government agencies in Florida, including police and fire departments.

According to the new contract, the city will be leasing Easy Aerial Osprey aircraft. The company website describes its drones as “developed with the support of the US Air Force and proudly built in the U.S.A.”

The $240,000 for the city’s latest drone program is coming from Federal Asset Forfeiture funds.