Advexure Spotlight: Santa Monica Police Department's DFR Program

Nestled between the shimmering Pacific Ocean and the sprawling cityscape of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, California, is more than just a popular tourist destination. It's a city committed to the safety and well-being of its residents, a responsibility that falls heavily on the shoulders of the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD). With a diverse community of about 90,000 residents, Santa Monica is one of the front-runners in harnessing the power of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, to revolutionize police work and ensure public safety.

Officer Peter Lashley, the lead UAS pilot for SMPD, reflects on the department's journey into using drone technology. "We started our UAS program in 2015," Lashley recalls, "with a single drone that one of our officers purchased on his own." The potential of the technology was soon recognized, and the program has since evolved from its humble beginnings to a full-fledged Drone as a First Responder (DFR) program.

Officer Peter Lashley of the Santa Monica Police Department running Drone as a First Responder (DFR) Operations from a Remote Command Center.
Officer Peter Lashley of Santa Monica Police Department running DFR operations from a remote command center.


DFR isn't merely an extension of an existing drone program; it signifies a shift in the way police work is conducted, making it more efficient, effective, and safe for both officers and the community they serve. As Lashley puts it, "Once you really see it and you talk to the patrol officers at these agencies, and how important it's become to them and the way they conduct policing, it's a no-brainer."

One particular incident vividly illustrates the indispensable value of the DFR program. Within the first week of the program, SMPD received a call about a teenager on the sidewalk pointing a gun at someone. In a traditional setting, officers would have approached the situation blind, potentially leading to a dangerous confrontation.

With the DFR program, a drone was quickly deployed to the scene, and officers observed the individual from a safe distance. As they watched, the subject pulled out what appeared to be a semiautomatic handgun from their sweatshirt. However, from the drone's perspective, it soon became clear that the supposed firearm was, in fact, an airsoft gun or a non-lethal firearm. With this intel, ground officers could approach the situation more appropriately, mitigating a potentially volatile situation. 

Santa Monica PD's DJI Matrice 300 RTK taking off in response to an active call.


SMPD's DFR program leverages the DJI Matrice 300 platform, which has proved instrumental in a wide range of calls, from shots fired to quality-of-life noise disturbances. Even in a relatively small city like Santa Monica, the advantages of the DFR program are noticeable.

Of course, operating drones within a city presents its own challenges. Santa Monica Municipal Airport's Class D airspace covers the entire city, meaning the DFR program must integrate seamlessly and safely with other aircraft, predominantly rotary-wing helicopters. The solution? "We have a qualified RPIC (Remote Pilot in Command) on the roof," says Lashley. By having a qualified person overseeing operations, potential air traffic conflicts can be managed effectively.

Lucie Hronek, a Remote Pilot from Flying Lion acting as the RPIC at SkyOne, SMPD's rooftop.
Lucie Hronek, a Remote Pilot from Flying Lion acting as the RPIC on Santa Monica PD's rooftop. 


The decision to bring DFR on board represented a significant shift in policing frequency and visibility for the SMPD. Ensuring community buy-in was key, which meant reaching out to community groups and city partners at City Hall, explaining the program, and its benefits, and addressing potential privacy concerns. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with robust safeguards to maintain community trust.

For departments contemplating their own UAS programs, Lashley advises a steady approach. "Try and go in seven days a week," he recommends. This, he explains, helps navigate the staffing issues that many agencies are grappling with today. Moreover, he invites others to reach out. "We've helped numerous agencies with their questions. Seek out information. Don't do it in a vacuum."

At Advexure, we are excited to see how the power of UAS technology is being harnessed to bolster public safety. Santa Monica's story is yet another testament to how drone technology can revolutionize policing, providing an extra layer of safety and efficiency to serve the community better. For departments or agencies considering implementing a drone program and looking for guidance, our team of experts, previous public safety servants, and Part 107 licensed drone pilots are ready to assist.

Contact us today to learn more.