Pennsylvania Police Deploy Crime-Fighting Drones To Catch Shoplifters

Police in Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, just 30 minutes northeast of Philadelphia, are using a “small fleet” of drones to tackle the growing issue of retail theft. The technology, which seems straight out of science fiction, is part of the Bensalem Secure Task Force, which aims to address the rising number of shoplifting incidents in the county.

Last year, Bensalem reported nearly 900 retail thefts, a 50% increase from just four years prior when they recorded only 484 incidents. Detective Glenn Vandegrift explained that the drones’ effectiveness lies in their ability to be dispatched and locate suspects quickly.

“Our goal is to bring our business community together in collaboration with law enforcement to reduce theft with practical and sustainable solutions,” reads the task force’s website. Because drones are airborne and not bound by traffic patterns or traditional road routes an operator can typically get a device on the scene within two minutes.

When a shoplifting incident is reported, the department immediately dispatches a drone equipped with a camera that allows real-time footage and video recording to search for and pursue the thief. Once the drone operator locates the perpetrator, they track the individual until law enforcement can apprehend them.

In one instance a drone was used to catch a suspect who stole a bicycle. The drone operator was able to locate and follow the thief, which led to an arrest less than a mile from where the bike was stolen. Another suspect in an undisclosed crime was also seen being arrested on drone footage with Vandegrift contending, “This guy would have been able to get away if the drone was not involved.”

While some might consider the use of drones excessive for shoplifting, Vandegrift has a different perspective. “It doesn’t matter if it’s $20 or $200, we’re coming at you just as hard,” he said. The department’s drone technology may also be used in other criminal investigations and chases in the future.