Arizona Cops Use Drone Surveillance to Arrest Protesters

Black Lives Matter protesters have been subject to unprecedented aerial surveillance in the last month.
Screen Shot 2020-06-30 at 10
Image: Tempe Police Department

Police in Tempe, Arizona used drone surveillance footage as justification for the arrest of three protesters this weekend. Police alleged that three people stopped traffic during a Black Lives Matter protest outside a Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Arizona activists organized a “chalk walk” over the weekend where protesters would gather to write on sidewalks in chalk to declare their support for the racial justice movement. Police took three people into custody, alleging that two had damaged a passing car and a third had prevented the police from making an arrest.


After the incident, protesters demanded police release footage of the alleged property damage and asked local businesses to release security footage of the area. Tempe PD was flying a drone above the protestors, captured footage of the alleged crime, and released that footage Monday on YouTube.

While many police departments have their own drones, there have been very few drone-aided arrests in the United States. Thus far, drones have largely been used for search-and-rescue operations by police and fire departments. The first known instances where a drone led to arrests both occurred in North Dakota. In 2012, Rodney Brossart was surveilled using a Department of Homeland Security Predator drone and then was raided by police. In 2014, North Dakota police used a smaller drone to track down four DUI suspects when they ran through a cornfield.

A spokesperson for the Tempe Police Department said they did not know what type of drone was being flown. The Maricopa County Sheriff's office has DJI Matrice 600 drones; we currently don't know which department flew these drones.

All over the country, protesters have been subject to aerial surveillance from drones, planes, and helicopters operated by federal, state, and local authorities.

“During the protest numerous protesters were observed blocking the roadway at McClintock Dr, as patrons attempted to exit the Tempe Marketplace,” the Tempe PD press release said. “Two of the protesters (a male and a female), began physically striking and throwing items at the victim’s vehicle causing noticeable damage.”

According to protesters, a grey truck advanced through the crosswalk while laying on its horn and attempted to run down a protester on the road at low speed. The drone footage released by the Tempe PD did not include sound.

The footage does not show the arrest. “We are still sorting through body cam footage right now,” a Tempe PD spokesperson told VICE over the phone. “It’s a ton of footage to go through. We’ll start releasing information throughout the week.”

Protesters captured footage of the arrest and shared it on Instagram. The protesters filmed several arrests in the Tempe area over the weekend. In the clips, cops arrive on the scene while protestors are drawing on the sidewalk in chalk, pull people out of the crowd, close ranks around the arrested person and—in one instance—pepper spray onlookers.