A drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, is a remote controlled aircraft that in recent years has become increasingly popular with hobbyists, the military, law enforcement, and Private Investigators. Today, the technology in a drone that can be purchased for even a few hundred dollars is truly amazing. Drones can be remotely controlled miles away from the operator and can send a video feed of what it is viewing, photographing, or recording back to the operator in real time. Many drones use GPS positioning, have the ability to fly on a pre-determined flight path, and can also produce high quality photographs and even 4K video. If you are a Private Investigator and do not have a drone in your collection of gadgets, please read on.
We were asked by a client (plaintiff attorney) to conduct a typical scene inspection at the location of a motor vehicle accident. The client was pursuing a suit against a roadway construction company stating that their client was involved in an accident with injury due to poor signage/warning of a right lane closure on the curve of a highway. As always, we accepted the case, jumped in the car, and went to the scene. Luckily, construction was still ongoing and we took photographs of the area from a safe distance. We even secured video of the traffic pattern from eye level; however, this was not enough to accurately depict how poorly drivers were informed about the coming lane closure. If only we could get a higher vantage point…
We deployed our drone into the sky from a safe location, and without flying over the highway, were able to get a birds-eye view of the entire construction area and the flow of traffic approaching and entering the site. From this vantage point, it was easy to identify that many vehicles approached the lane closure too quickly, and had to brake hard and even swerve to avoid hitting cones. We were able to record twenty minutes of constant video and caught on camera during this time, two different vehicles who were almost involved in collisions due to the poor signage prior to the lane closure.
Needless to say, our client was amazed with the video and the evidence made its way into the courtroom. The client has used our firm ever since.
Drones have seen their place in other types of investigations as well. Having the ability to fly high (within legal limits of course) and zoom in on a property, subject, or vehicle can be invaluable to an Investigator. We have used drones to conduct a periodic “fly-by” of a residence where the subject was highly suspicious of surveillance investigators, and a normal drive-by or stationary view of a residence could not be achieved. It has been used to help locate a lost subject (tail) that was last seen heading into a large park or shopping mall. Drones are helpful when attempting to identify assets on a property and for our Claims Investigators, documenting damage to buildings, roofs, or other locations which are out of view.
Taking the above into consideration, it’s clear that drone technology is a new asset to Private Investigators. We encourage Investigators to keep up with FAA Regulations with using drones for commercial use and to always follow local laws and restrictions.