Drone draws out murder suspect

Despite all the sterling work drones have been doing as part of policing efforts all over the world, there are still lingering questions over where drone technology stands in law enforcement today.

But the success that detectives at the Atlanta Police Department had in drawing out a suspect in a homicide case last week should cement the blueprints for the use of drone technology in policing and public safety.

It does say a lot about the development of drone technology when people express their relief about the drone being used to diffuse a situation which could easily have turned violent. Of course, it does say a lot about the failings of humans as a society too, if they have to use technology to find common ground between each other.

But the drone done good indeed. APD detectives had received a tip off about a suspect in a homicide case they were investigating, the fatal shooting of Thomas Jefferson Byrd, who was killed on October 3 this year. To confirm that they were following a solid lead, the police say they made due diligence in finding more evidence, before they assembled a team to the property where the suspect, Antonio Demetrice Rhynes, lived at an Apartment Complex in North Camp Creek Parkway, Atlanta.  

Thirteen days later they made their move.

“On October 14, 2020, warrants for the arrest of 30-year-old Antonio Demetrice Rhynes of Atlanta for felony murder were issued and investigators from the APD Fugitive Unit began working to arrest Rhynes,” said the APD in a post on their Facebook page. “In the early morning of Friday, October 16, 2020, the Fugitive Unit, in coordination with APD SWAT Officers, arrested Rhynes at Royal Oaks Apartments 3540 North Camp Creek Parkway. The suspect was taken to the Fulton County Jail.”

In a video released on social media, the police show the drone entering the house in which the suspect lived in. its camera shows a battered door, and once inside, the pilot navigates the drone around to survey what the living room, then the kitchen before training its lens on the two doors farther inside the house.

Unfortunately, the video has no sound, so when the suspect’s head pops out from one of the rooms and and his lips move, we cannot tell what he is saying. But, shirtless, he holds his hands up first, before placing them at the back of his head and making his way out of the house to the waiting cops outside.

And just like that, he is in police custody.

No firearm in sight. Just a shirtless suspect drawn out by a drone to surrender himself to law enforcement.

“The Atlanta Police Department is proud of the diligent efforts of the Homicide Unit in identifying the suspect in this case and for the skilled and professional work done by the Fugitive and SWAT Units to take Rhynes into custody without incident.”

Yes. And almost everybody who watched the video and felt obliged to leave a comment could be heard sighing with relief too at the pleasant surprise of no firearms during an arrest. We have all witnessed cases where drones have been used to locate hikers lost in the woods, be the eyes in the sky in suspect chases, but this must the first time we have seen the evidence of a drone placed right in the middle of an arrest. A bloodless arrest at that.

We know that the South African Police Service has been dabbing with the idea of deploying drones in its policing operations; we hope somebody in their corridors of power will see this video and get to feel the real experience of how drones can improve the safety of police officers during dangerous stand offs with suspects that have the potential to end in the sound of gunfire.

“This arrest reflects highly on the men and women of the Atlanta Police Department and represents the highest standards of policing. APD thanks the community for their tips in this case.”


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