After years of writing critically about police officers using excessive force and police departments abusing surveillance technology, I couldn’t be happier to relay a story in which cops used drones as a tool to help them avoid taking a life.
It began when a woman, 57, left Cocoa Beach, Florida, drove all the way to Stafford County, Virginia, pulled into a Walmart parking lot, backed her sedan up against a 16-wheeler cab with a sleeping trucker inside, and took out a silver revolver. “She kept talking to herself, yelling profanities and enticing us to shoot her, over and over and over again,” a local police officer later told The Washington Post.
Its was an apparent attempt at “suicide by cop.”
Desperate people like the Florida woman, who was reportedly down to her last $14, decide to provoke their own death by waving a gun or knife at a police officer, knowing law enforcement is trained to shoot if they feel their life is threatened. Cops who shoot in such situations were manipulated into doing so, but that doesn’t spare them from feelings of trauma or guilt for taking a human life. Some recall doing so as the worst moment in their careers or even their lives.
Fortunately, the Florida woman was not killed:
Rather than rush into a situation where they might have to fire, Stafford officials turned to technology: Police pilots flew two drones to monitor the woman from a safe distance and avoid putting officers in a direct confrontation. The airborne cameras gave authorities a close-up view of her and what she had in her car as she flitted between pacing outside and ducking back into the vehicle.
Worcester could see the label on the vodka bottle she lifted to wash down pills. He could tell SWAT officers when she had her finger on the trigger of her gun. And he could watch as her agitation ebbed and flowed.
That information helped police to safely and successfully evacuate the trucker from his cab, and eventually, to get an armored vehicle close enough to fill the woman’s car with pepper spray, enabling officers to grab, disarm, and arrest her.