Bensalem Police Use Drones To Pursue And Catch Shoplifters In Minutes

Police in Bensalem Township Pennsylvania located just 30 minutes northeast of Philadelphia are employing a “small fleet” of drones to address the growing problem of retail theft. The technology which seems like something out of a science fiction movie is part of the Bensalem Secure Task Force designed to tackle the increasing 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 leading 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.

Bensalem’s success with drones has led Vandegrift to believe that other departments should invest in the technology. “Our clearance rate for retail thefts is 62%. That is significantly higher than the national average” he said. As the use of drones in law enforcement becomes more prevalent the debate over their effectiveness and potential overreach is likely to continue.